Finding local extrema in noisy data using Quantile Regression


This blog post (article) describes an algorithm for finding local extrema in noisy data using Quantile Regression. The problem formulation and a solution for it using polynomial model fitting (through LinearModelFit) were taken from Mathematica StackExchange — see “Finding Local Minima / Maxima in Noisy Data”, [1].

The proposed Quantile Regression algorithm is a version of the polynomial fitting solution (proposed by Leonid Shifrin in [1]) and has the following advantages: (i) requires less parameter tweaking, and (ii) more importantly it is more robust with very noisy and oscillating data. That robustness is achieved by using two regression fitted curves: one close to the local minima and another close to the local maxima, computed for low and high quantiles respectively. (Quantile Regression is uniquely able to do that.)

The code for this blog post is available at [6].

A complete version of this blog post is available as a PDF document here: Finding local extrema in noisy data using Quantile Regression.pdf.

The problem

Here is the problem formulation from [1].

Problem 1: We have a list of pairs of numbers representing measurements of a scalar variable on a regular time grid. The measurements have noise in them.

As a data example for this problem the author of the question in [1] has provided the following code:

temptimelist = Range[200]/10;
tempvaluelist = Sinc[#] &@temptimelist + RandomReal[{-1, 1}, 200]*0.02;
data1 = Transpose[{temptimelist, tempvaluelist}];
ListPlot[data1, PlotRange -> All, Frame -> True, ImageSize -> 500]


In this article we are going to consider a more general problem hinted in the discussion of the solutions in [1].

Problem 2: Assume that the data in Problem 1 is collected several times and the noise is present in both the measured values and the time of measurement. Also the data can be highly oscillatory in nature.

Consider this data generation as an example for Problem 2:

n = 1000;
xs = N@Rescale[Range[n], {1, n}, {0, 60}];
data2 = Flatten[
 Table[Transpose[{xs + 0.1 RandomReal[{-1, 1}, Length[xs]], 
 Map[5 Sinc[#] + Sin[#] + 4 Sin[1/4 #] &, xs] + 
 1.2 RandomVariate[SkewNormalDistribution[0, 1, 0.9], 
 Length[xs]]}], {10}], 1];
ListPlot[data2, PlotRange -> All, Frame -> True, ImageSize -> 500]


Note that this data has 10000 points and it is much larger than the data for Problem 1.

Extrema location approximation by model fitting followed by nearest neighbors search

Several solutions are given in [1]. A couple are using wavelets or Gaussian filtering for de-noising. The one we are going to focus on in this article is using polynomial fitting for extrema location approximation and then finding the actual data extrema by Nearest Neighbors (NN’s) search. It is provided by Leonid Shifrin.

Let us list the steps of that algorithm:

1. Fit a polynomial through the data (using LinearModelFit).
2. Find the local extrema of the fitted polynomial. (We will call them fit estimated extrema.)
3. Around each of the fit estimated extrema find the most extreme point in
the data by nearest neighbors search (by using Nearest).

We are going to refer to this algorithm as LMFFindExtrema. Its implementation is available here: QuantileRegressionForLocalExtrema.m, [6].

Here is the application of the algorithm to the data example of Problem 1:


(The continuous line shows the fitted curve.)

Here is the application of the algorithm to the data example of Problem 2:


It does not help to just increase the number of basis polynomials and the number of NN’s examined points:


We can also see that increasing the number of examined NN’s for each of the fit estimated extrema would make some the final result points to be “borrowed” from neighboring peaks in the data.

Experiments with fitting trigonometric basis functions showed very good fit to the data but the calculations of the fit estimated extrema were very slow.

Using Quantile Regression

It is trivial to rewrite the algorithm LFMFindExtrema to use Quantile Regression instead of linear model fitting of polynomials. We are going to use the Mathematica package [2] implementation described in [3,4]. The function QuantileRegression provided by [2] uses a B-spline basis [5] to find the quantile regression curves (also known as regression quantiles).

We are going to call this algorithm QRFindExtrema. Again its implementation is available here: QuantileRegressionForLocalExtrema.m, [6].

The algorithm QRFindExtrema has the following parameters: the data, number of B-spline knots, interpolation order, quantiles (corresponding to the curves to be fitted).

QRFindExtrema returns a list of regression quantile functions and a list of lists with extrema estimates.

More importantly though, QRFindExtrema can use two curves for finding the local extrema: one for local minima, and one for local maxima. (This feature is justified below.)

Here is the application of QRFindExtrema to the example data of Problem 1:


Here is application of QRFindExtrema to the data of Problem 2:


We can see that the regression quantile for 0.5 is too flat to get good judgment of the local extrema. We can get better results if we increase the number of knots for the B-spline basis built by QuantileRegression.


We can see that results look “almost right”, the horizontal locations of the peaks are apparently more-or-less correctly identified, but the result extrema are too close to the fitted curve. Just increasing the number of examined NN’s for the fit estimated extrema does not produce good results because points from neighboring peaks are being chosen as final extrema estimates.


In order to solve this problem we use two regression quantiles. For local minima we use a regression quantile for a low quantile number, say, 0.02; for the local maxima we use a regression quantile for a large quantile number, say, 0.98 .


The use of two (or more) curves to be fitted is an unique capability of Quantile Regression. With this algorithm feature by construction the lower regression quantile is close to the local minima and the higher regression quantile is close to the local maxima.

Also, since we find two regression quantile curves we can use two nearest neighbors finding functions: one with the points below the low regression quantile, and one with the points above the high regression quantile. The implementation in [6] takes an option specification for should the nearest neighbor functions for finding the extrema be constructed using all data points or just the outliers (the points outside of the found regression quantiles).

More examples

More timid noisy and oscillating data with around 10,000 points.



[1] Mathematica StackExchange discussion. “Finding Local Minima / Maxima in Noisy Data”,
URL: .

[2] Anton Antonov, Quantile regression Mathematica package, source code at GitHub,, package QuantileRegression.m, (2013).

[3] Anton Antonov, Quantile regression through linear programming, usage guide at GitHub,, in the directory “Documentation”, (2013).

[4] Anton Antonov, Quantile regression through linear programming, “Mathematica for prediction algorithms” blog at, 12/16/2013.

[5] Anton Antonov, Quantile regression with B-splines, “Mathematica for prediction algorithms” blog at, 1/1/2014.

[6] Anton Antonov, QuantileRegressionForLocalExtrema Mathematica package, source code at GitHub,, package QuantileRegressionForLocalExtrema.m, (2015).
The package is in the directory “Applications”.

Find Fit for Non-linear data

Three weeks ago I replied to a question in the Wolfram Community site about finding a function fit to points of non-linear data.

Here is the data:

Non-linear data

I proposed a different way of doing the non-linear fitting using Quantile regression with B-splines. The advantages of the approach are that it does not need guessing of the fit functions and it requires less experimentation.

Load the package QuantileRegression.m:


After several experiments with the number of knots we can find a regression quantile using 3d order B-splines of 18 knots that approximates the data well.

qfunc = Simplify[QuantileRegression[data, 18, {0.5}, InterpolationOrder -> 2][[1]]];

qfGr = Plot[qfunc[x], {x, Min[data[[All, 1]]], Max[data[[All, 1]]]}, PlotPoints -> 700];
Show[{dGr, qfGr}, Frame -> True, ImageSize -> 700]


Here is the relative error estimate:

ListPlot[Map[{#[[1]], (qfunc[#1[[1]]] - #1[[2]])/#1[[2]]} &, data],
Filling -> Axis, Frame -> True, ImageSize -> 700]


I would like to point out that if we put large number of knots we can get aliasing errors effect:

qfunc = Simplify[
QuantileRegression[data, 40, {0.5}, InterpolationOrder -> 2][[1]]];

qfGr = Plot[qfunc[x], {x, Min[data[[All, 1]]], Max[data[[All, 1]]]}, PlotPoints -> 700];
Show[{dGr, qfGr}, Frame -> True, ImageSize -> 700]


If we select a non-uniform grid of knots according to gradients of the data we get a good approximation with one attempt.

In[107]:= knots =
Rescale[Range[0, 1, 0.2], {0, 1}, {Min[data[[All, 1]]],
Max[data[[All, 1]]] 3/4}],
Rescale[Range[0, 1, 0.1], {0, 1}, {Max[data[[All, 1]]] 3/4,
Max[data[[All, 1]]]}]

Out[107]= {0., 3.75, 7.5, 11.25, 15., 18.75, 18.75, 19.375, 20., 20.625, 21.25, 21.875, 22.5, 23.125, 23.75, 24.375, 25.}

In[108]:= qfunc = QuantileRegression[data, knots, {0.5}][[1]];

The grid lines in the plot below are made with the knots.

qfGr = Plot[qfunc[x], {x, Min[data[[All, 1]]], Max[data[[All, 1]]]}];
Show[{dGr, qfGr}, GridLines -> {knots, None},
GridLinesStyle -> Directive[GrayLevel[0.8], Dashed], Frame -> True,
ImageSize -> 700]


Here are the relative errors:

ListPlot[Map[{#[[1]], (qfunc[#1[[1]]] - #1[[2]])/#1[[2]]} &, data],
Filling -> Axis, Frame -> True, ImageSize -> 700]


Here is the approximation function after using PiecewiseExpand and Simplify:

qfunc = Evaluate[Simplify[PiecewiseExpand[qfunc[[1]]]]] &;



If it is desired to make the fitting with a certain, known model function then the function QuantileRegressionFit can be used. QuantileRegressionFit is provided by the same package, QuantileRegression.m, used in the blog post.

This older blog post of mine discusses the use of QuantileRegressionFit and points to a PDF with further details (theory and Mathematica commands).

OPL code for quantile regression with B-splines

I found it to be an interesting exercises to write an optimization model using the Optimization Programming Language (OPL) provided by IBM ILOG CPLEX.

The quantile regression OPL code is provided in the sub-directory OPL in MathematicaForPrediction project at GitHub. The code can use only first order B-splines. The number of knots and the quantile are parameters to be specified. The reason to have only first order splines is because OPL provides only one type of piecewise functions — linear piecewise functions. OPL piecewise functions are somewhat awkward to interpret, but relatively easy to specify. (I will update this post with Mathematica code to parse and interpret them.) Since, of course, OPL’s piecewise{...} can be used to specify step functions I could have programmed zero order splines, but that would be only useful for educational purposes.

The code is short:

tuple Point {
float x;
float y;

// Data points provided by an external file
{Point} data = ...;

// Number of knots parameter
int k = 7;

// Quantile parameter
float q = 0.75;

float dataMin = min(d in data) d.x;
float dataMax = max(d in data) d.x;
float cLen = ( dataMax - dataMin ) / (k-1);

dvar float+ u[data];
dvar float+ v[data];
dvar float+ bs[1..k];

minimize sum(d in data) q*u[d] + sum(d in data) (1-q)*v[d];

subject to {

forall ( d in data ) {
(sum ( i in 1..k ) bs[i] * (piecewise{ 0-> dataMin + (i-2)*cLen; 1/cLen -> dataMin + (i-1)*cLen; -1/cLen -> dataMin + i*cLen; 0}( dataMin + (i-2)*cLen, 0) d.x) ) + u[d] - v[d] == d.y;

The code mentioned earlier provides print-outs of the piecewise, B-spline basis functions and the weights found for them. (The weighted sum of the B-spline basis functions gives the regression quantile.)

Quantile regression through linear programming

We can say that least squares linear regression corresponds to finding the mean of a single distribution. Similarly, quantile regression corresponds to finding quantiles of a single distribution. With quantile regression we obtain curves — “regression quantiles” — that together with the least squares regression curve would give a more complete picture of the distributions (the Y’s) corresponding to a set of X’s.

The Quantile Regression Problem (QRP) is formulated as a minimization of the sum of absolute differences. Further, QRP is re-formulated as a linear programming problem, which allows for efficient computation. To compute quantiles other than the median the so called “tilted” function is used. (See this Wikipedia entry.)

For a complete, interesting, and colorful introduction and justification to quantile regression I refer to this article:

Roger Koenker, Gilbert Bassett Jr., “Regression Quantiles”, Econometrica, Vol. 46, No. 1. (Jan., 1978), pp. 33-50. JSTOR URL: .

I recently implemented and uploaded a Mathematica package for computing regression quantiles using Mathematica’s function LinearProgramming — see the package QuantileRegression.m provided by the MathematicaForPrediction project at GitHub. Also see this guide for using the function QuantileRegressionFit provided by the package. The guide has some theoretical explanations and shows how the quantile regression problem can be formulated as a linear programming problem.

Below are presented several examples of regression quantiles computed over different data sets with the function QuantileRegressionFit provided by the package. The signature of QuantileRegressionFit is very similar to that of Mathematica‘s function Fit. Here is the definition statement:

QuantileRegressionFit::usage = “QuantileRegressionFit[data,funs,var,qs] finds the regression quantiles corresponding to the quantiles qs for a list of data as linear combinations of the functions funs of the variable var.”

QuantileRegressionFit has a Method option and can use both Minimize and LinearProgramming, but the computations with Minimize are quite slow for larger data sets. (The implementation with Minimize is included for didactic purposes.) All QuantileRegressionFit results presented below are done with the linear programming implementation.

First let us consider data generated by adding skewed noise over a logarithmic curve:

Logarithmic curve with skewed noise

Pretending that we don’t know how the data is generated, just by looking at the plot, we might conjecture that the model for the data is

Y = b0 + b1 X + b2 X^(1/2) + b3 log(X) .

Using this model we find regression quantiles corresponding to 0.05, 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, 0.95. For comparison we also find the least squares fit of the model. Here is a plot that shows the regression quantiles for that data together with the least squares fit of the model functions:

Regression quantiles for a logarithmic curve with skewed noise

We can check do the regression quantiles partition the data in the expected way. Here is a table that shows the fraction of the data points with Y’s greater or equal than the corresponding regression quantile:

Logarithmic curve with skewed noise q-table

Here is a plot of the with the regression quantiles of a more interesting set of data:

Regeression quantiles for sin noise over a parabola

Here is the table for the data partition tests:

Sin noise over a parabola q-table

I further made some performance profiling tests. First we need to choose a family or several families of test data. Also, since Mathematica’s function LinearProgramming has several methods it is a good idea to test with all of them. Here I am going to show results only with one family of data and two LinearProgramming methods. The data family is the skewed noise over a logarithmic curve used as an example above. The first LinearProgramming method is Mathematica‘s  (default) “InteriorPoint”, the second method is “CLP” that uses the built-in COIN-OR CLP optimizer. I run the profiling tests using one quantile {0.5} and five quantiles {0.05, 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, 0.95}, which are shown in blue and red respectively. I also run tests with different number of model functions {1, x, x^(1/2), log(x)} and {1, x, log(x)} but there was no significant difference in the timings (less than 2%).

Performance profile InteriorPoint method

Performance profile CLP method

It is interesting to note that the average ratio of the timings with 1 vs. 5 quantiles is 0.38 for “InteriorPoint” and 0.5 for “CLP”.

In another post I am going to show examples of the robustness of regression quantiles when the data has outliers.

Update: Because I implemented calculation of regression quantiles with B-splines I had to rename the function QuantileRegression into QuantileRegressionFit. I made the corresponding changes in the blog post. (Except the profile graphics captions.)