Python cross correlation of two arrays

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Let’s experiment with correlation using fake time series. We will also take a quick look at interpolation. In all of the following, the assumption is that arrays contain data sampled uniformly in time or space. (This can be relaxed when calculating the correlation coefficient at
zero lag.)

In [1]:

%matplotlib notebook

# Our standard imports:
import numpy as np
import matplotlib as mpl
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

# Access to many standard distributions:
import scipy.stats as ss

The first thing to do is find out what functions are available, and how to use at least some of them. There are several types of calculation in the category of “correlation”. “Autocorrelation” is the correlation of a time series with a lagged copy of itself. “Crosscorrelation” is correlation between two series of the same length, with or without lags. “Correlation coefficient” is a normalized correlation. “Convolution”
is a lagged correlation in which the series may differ in length, and in which one of the series is reversed. There are also variations involving normalization, and the treatment of complex numbers. The terminology is not entirely standardized, and can differ from one discipline to another. Before you use any given function, check to be sure you know exactly what it is doing. I suggest that you take a look at

  • (for masked arrays)

Notice that only one of these handles masked arrays; it calculates the correlation coefficients with zero lag. For anything else, if you have masked arrays or NaNs, you need to write your own code to handle the missing points appropriately. Unless
you are calculating a zero-lag correlation, deleting missing points, thereby shortening an array, will not be a good solution. You will need to replace the bad points via interpolation or some other method.

Correlation coefficient¶

Start with the correlation coefficient between two
independent random series. We will make an ensemble of series, and find the PDF of the correlation coefficient as the normalized histogram of correlation coefficients for all pairs. The np.corrcoef function provides an efficient way to do this.

In [2]:

ntrials = 200
npts = 100

y = np.random.rand(ntrials, npts)  # uniform distribution
ccoef = np.corrcoef(y)
print('The shape of y is %s, the shape of ccoef is %s.' 
      % (y.shape, ccoef.shape))

# we want all of the values except for the diagonal
di = np.diag_indices(ntrials)
ccoef =
ccoef[di] =
ccoef_flat = ccoef.compressed()

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
ax.hist(ccoef_flat, bins=np.arange(-0.500, 0.5001, 0.01),
ax.set_xlabel('Correlation coefficient')
ax.set_title('Uniform distribution, %d points' % npts);
The shape of y is (200, 100), the shape of ccoef is (200, 200).

You can try the same thing with a normal distribution, or any other variation you like. What happens if you use a small number of points in the series, say 10,
instead of the larger number (100) in the example above? Think about it, then experiment!

We can calculate the correlation coefficient using other functions:

In [4]:

x = np.random.rand(100)
y = np.random.rand(100)

# With correlate:
# We must remove the means.
cc1 = np.correlate(x - x.mean(), y - y.mean())[0]
# And we must normalize by the number of points
# and the product of the standard deviations.
cc1 /= (len(x) * x.std() * y.std())

# with corrcoef:
cc2 = np.corrcoef(x, y)[0, 1]

print(cc1, cc2)
-0.245288390211 -0.245288390211

Notice that the correlate function is just returning a sum of products.

The correlate function is more general, however; with the mode="full" kwarg, it is useful for calculating the correlation as a function of lag. Start
with autocorrelation. Note that zero-padding is used, so that the estimated sample correlation at a given lag is the sum of the overlapping products. To get an estimate of the autocorrelation function, we normalize by the value at zero-lag. The zero-padding builds in a taper towards zero at maximum magnitude of the lag. Hence it is a biased estimator, but one with reduced mean squared error compared to an unbiased estimator.

In [5]:

nx = 50 
x = np.random.randn(nx) # normal RV

lags = np.arange(-nx + 1, nx) # so last value is nx - 1

# Remove sample mean.
xdm = x - x.mean()

autocorr_xdm = np.correlate(xdm, xdm, mode='full')
# Normalize by the zero-lag value:
autocorr_xdm /= autocorr_xdm[nx - 1]

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
ax.plot(lags, autocorr_xdm, 'r')
ax.set_ylabel('correlation coefficient')

that in the example above, removing the sample mean has very little effect, because the sample mean is nearly zero. With typical data sets, this will not be the case. In general you should remove the sample mean before estimating the autocorrelation–and the correlate function does not do this for you.

Exercise: illustrate this by executing the above cell with randn changed to rand.

Exercise: execute the cell multiple times, noting that the plot changes each time,
because each call to randn yields a different set of numbers. The true autocorrelation is zero at all non-zero lags, but the sample autocorrelation estimate is not zero.

Exercise: execute the above cell with different values of nx.

First, let’s make a function to calculate the estimated autocorrelation, so we don’t have to keep typing in the same steps:

In [7]:

def autocorr(x, twosided=False, tapered=True):
    Return (lags, ac), where ac is the estimated autocorrelation 
    function for x, at the full set of possible lags.
    If twosided is True, all lags will be included;
    otherwise (default), only non-negative lags will be included.

    If tapered is True (default), the low-MSE estimate, linearly
    tapered to zero for large lags, is returned.
    nx = len(x)
    xdm = x - x.mean()
    ac = np.correlate(xdm, xdm, mode='full')
    ac /= ac[nx - 1]
    lags = np.arange(-nx + 1, nx)
    if not tapered:  # undo the built-in taper
        taper = 1 - np.abs(lags) / float(nx)
        ac /= taper
    if twosided:
        return lags, ac
        return lags[nx-1:], ac[nx-1:]

Now, we also need a function for estimating
the equivalent number of degrees of freedom (EDOF) for the standard error of the mean. Note that the EDOF is itself just an uncertain estimate, specific to a particular statistic (here, to the SEM), and with no one perfect estimator.

Let’s just make a single function that returns the mean, the SEM, and the EDOF used to estimate the SEM.

In [8]:

def mean_sem_edof(y, truncated=True, tapered_cor=True):
    Return the mean, SEM, and EDOF for the sequence y.

    If truncated is True (default), the EDOF and SEM will
    be calculated based on only the positive central peak of
    the sample autocorrelation.

    If tapered_cor is True (default), the low-MSE estimate of
    the lagged correlation is used.
    ym = y.mean()
    n = len(y)
    lags, ac = autocorr(y, twosided=True, tapered=tapered_cor)
    taper = 1 - np.abs(lags) / n
    if truncated:
        i1 = np.nonzero(np.logical_and(lags >= 0, ac < 0))[0].min()
        i0 = 2 * n - i1 - 1  # taking advantage of symmetry...
        sl = slice(i0, i1)
        sl = slice(None)
    edof = n / np.sum(taper[sl] * ac[sl])
    with np.errstate(invalid='ignore'):
        sem = y.std() / np.sqrt(edof)
    return ym, sem, edof

If we take a set of uncorrelated points and apply a smoothing operator, the output will be
sequentially correlated. This is illustrated below with a 5-point boxcar filter, implemented using the convolve function.

In [9]:

nx = 200
t = np.arange(nx)
x = np.random.randn(nx)
xc = np.convolve(x, np.ones(5) / 5.0, mode='same')

fig, (ax0, ax1) = plt.subplots(2)
ax0.plot(t, x, 'b', t, xc, 'r')
ax0.set_ylabel('random data')

lags, auto_x = autocorr(x)
lags, auto_xc = autocorr(xc)
ax1.plot(lags, auto_x, 'b', lags, auto_xc, 'r')

for ax in (ax0, ax1):
    ax.locator_params(axis='y', nbins=4)

Notice how smoothing a series of independent random numbers has yielded a slowly-varying time series, and an estimated autocorrelation function with a wider central lobe and larger values in the side lobes where the true autocorrelation is zero; values separated by more than the width of the smoothing
window are actually still statistically independent, but this is not clear based on the sample autocorrelation.

Exercise: use simple statistical concepts to explain why we see these larger sidelobes.

Exercise: calculate mean, SEM, and EDOF for many realizations, and quantify how well or how badly this estimate of SEM matches the actual statistics of the mean.

In [11]:

for truncated in (True, False):
    print("Integrating over central peak? ", truncated)
    for tapered_cor in (True, False):
        print("  Tapered correlation estimate? ", tapered_cor)
        print("    x:  %7.3f  %7.3f  %9.1f " % 
              mean_sem_edof(x, truncated=truncated, tapered_cor=tapered_cor))
        print("    xc: %7.3f  %7.3f  %9.1f " % 
              mean_sem_edof(xc, truncated=truncated, tapered_cor=tapered_cor)) 
Integrating over central peak?  True
  Tapered correlation estimate?  True
    x:   -0.009    0.080      160.7 
    xc:  -0.009    0.114       17.6 

  Tapered correlation estimate?  False
    x:   -0.009    0.080      160.4 
    xc:  -0.009    0.117       16.8 

Integrating over central peak?  False
  Tapered correlation estimate?  True
    x:   -0.009    0.078      169.1 
    xc:  -0.009    0.077       38.1 

  Tapered correlation estimate?  False
    x:   -0.009      nan  -600479950316066176.0 
    xc:  -0.009    0.000  225179981368524800.0 

that integrating over the whole lagged autocorrelation function fails if the tapered estimator is not used, and is wildly inaccurate even when the tapered estimator is used.

Cross correlation¶

What one sees most often in data analysis papers is not the autocorrelation, but the cross correlation between
two time series, or between a single time series, such as the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) and the time series at each of many locations, such as SST on a 1-degree grid. Such cross correlations can be at zero lag, or as a function of lag. The calculation is straightforward; the main point of confusion is the definition of the lag. Let’s experiment with two time series, each with a sinusoid plus some noise. The first, y1, reaches its maximum value 1/4 cycle after the second
one, y2. Therefore y1 lags y2, or y2 leads y1. Unfortunately, there is no single convention for defining the cross-covariance or cross-correlation; Jenkins and Watts (1968) use one convention, and Emery and Thompson (2001) use the opposite. The np.correlate() function matches Emery and Thompson; we will use that one.

In [12]:

npts = 500
x = np.linspace(0, 50, npts)
y1 = 5 * np.sin(x/2) + np.random.randn(npts)
y2 = 5 * np.cos(x/2) + np.random.randn(npts)

lags = np.arange(-npts + 1, npts)
ccov = np.correlate(y1 - y1.mean(), y2 - y2.mean(), mode='full')
ccor = ccov / (npts * y1.std() * y2.std())

fig, axs = plt.subplots(nrows=2)
ax = axs[0]
ax.plot(x, y1, 'b', label='y1')
ax.plot(x, y2, 'r', label='y2')
ax.set_ylim(-10, 10)
ax.legend(loc='upper right', fontsize='small', ncol=2)

ax = axs[1]
ax.plot(lags, ccor)
ax.set_ylim(-1.1, 1.1)
ax.set_xlabel('lag of y1 relative to y2')

maxlag = lags[np.argmax(ccor)]
print("max correlation is at lag %d" % maxlag)
max correlation is at lag 29

This can all get quite confusing. The red
curve, y2, peaks to the left of y1. Doesn’t that mean it lags y1? No, it leads. Think of yourself moving forward in time, to the right along the x-axis. As you slide along, you see the red curve peak before the blue.

To summarize: with the calculation done as above, a positive lag means the first series lags the second, or the second leads the first–peaks earlier in time, so at a location to the left on the time series plot.

will also have noticed that this estimator of the cross-correlation decays to zero at the ends. This is a biased estimator. We could remove that bias by normalizing by the number of points going into the sum instead of by the total number of points. In practice it usually doesn’t matter. To get a reliable lagged correlation, one needs a large number of points, and usually the only lags of interest are a small fraction of the total number of points.

Irregular sampling and interpolation¶

Estimation of statistical constructs such as the lagged autocorrelation function are vastly simpler when the data are uniformly spaced. When real data are not uniformly sampled, we often use the expedient of interpolation to put them on a uniform grid
for analysis. The simplest method, linear interpolation, is usually good enough; and a general principle of data analysis is, “use the simplest technique that will reveal the signal of interest”. (Actually, there is a simpler method than linear interpolation. If the sampling is only slightly non-uniform, so that sample times are close to regular grid points, then nearest-neighbor interpolation to the uniform grid can be superior to interpolation.)

Here, we will make a quite irregular set
of fake sample times by summing uniformly distributed random values.

In [14]:

nt = 50
t = 2 * np.random.rand(50).cumsum()
x = np.random.randn(nt)

# Make a uniform grid, with the same number of points:
tnew = np.linspace(t.min(), t.max(), nt)
xnew = np.interp(tnew, t, x)

print("standard deviations: ", x.std(), xnew.std())

fig, (ax0, ax1) = plt.subplots(2)
ax0.plot(t, x, 'bo', label='original') 
ax0.plot(tnew, xnew, 'ro', label='interpolated')
ax0.legend(loc='upper right', ncol=2, fontsize='small')
ax0.set_ylim(-5, 5)

lags, auto_x = autocorr(xnew)
ax1.plot(lags, auto_x, 'ro')

for ax in (ax0, ax1):
    ax.locator_params(axis='y', nbins=4)

ax1.set_xlim(0, nt//3) # To see the smaller lags better.
ax1.set_ylim(-1.1, 1.1)
standard deviations:  0.834559903434 0.641070532877



Notice how the interpolation has reduced the standard deviation.

Interpolating gaps¶

Often observations are taken at uniform intervals, but there are gaps because something went wrong. We will illustrate with a fake time series consisting of a sinusoid plus noise.

In [16]:

npts = 500
x = np.linspace(0, 50, npts)
y = 5 * np.sin(x/2) + np.random.randn(npts)
y_orig = y.copy() 

# Insert some nans:
y[::7] = np.nan
y[::10] = np.nan

ym =
fig, ax = plt.subplots()
ax.plot(x, ym, 'bo', label='retained')
ax.plot(x[ym.mask], y_orig[ym.mask], 'ro', label='deleted')
ax.set_ylim([-10, 10])
ax.legend(loc='upper right', fontsize='small', ncol=2)


<matplotlib.legend.Legend at 0x113f624a8>

Now interpolate. We need to make x and y ndarrays with no gaps by removing the points where ym is masked.

In [18]:

xtab =, mask=ym.mask).compressed()
ytab = ym.compressed()

yfilled = ym.filled()   # no longer masked
yfilled[ym.mask] = np.interp(x[ym.mask], xtab, ytab)

In [19]:

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
ax.plot(x, ym, 'bo', label='retained')
ax.plot(x[ym.mask], yfilled[ym.mask], 'ro', label='interpolated')
ax.set_ylim([-10, 10])
ax.legend(loc='upper right', fontsize='small', ncol=2)


<matplotlib.legend.Legend at 0x114108128>

I like using masked arrays, but of course we could easily do the same thing without detouring through ma:

In [21]:

mask = np.isnan(y)
yfilled2 = y.copy()
yfilled2[mask] = np.interp(x[mask], x[~mask], y[~mask])

identical = (yfilled2 == yfilled).all()
print("They are identical?", identical)

How do you find the correlation between two lists in Python?

pearsonr() to calculate the Pearson correlation between two lists. Call scipy. stats. pearsonr(x, y) with two lists of equal length as x and y to calculate their Pearson correlation.

How do you find cross

To detect a level of correlation between two signals we use cross-correlation. It is calculated simply by multiplying and summing two-time series together. In the following example, graphs A and B are cross-correlated but graph C is not correlated to either.

How do you find the correlation of a Numpy array?

Pearson Correlation Coefficient in Python Using Numpy
The Pearson Correlation coefficient can be computed in Python using corrcoef() method from Numpy. The input for this function is typically a matrix, say of size mxn , where: Each column represents the values of a random variable.

What does NP Corrcoef do in Python?

In NumPy, We can compute pearson product-moment correlation coefficients of two given arrays with the help of numpy. corrcoef() function. In this function, we will pass arrays as a parameter and it will return the pearson product-moment correlation coefficients of two given arrays.

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