German tanks and historical records: the estimation of the time coverage of ungauged extreme events

Ilaria Prosdocimi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (SciVal)


The use of historical data can significantly reduce the uncertainty around estimates of the magnitude of rare events obtained with extreme value statistical models. For historical data to be included in the statistical analysis a number of their properties, e.g. their number and magnitude, need to be known with a reasonable level of confidence. Another key aspect of the historical data which needs to be known is the coverage period of the historical information, i.e. the period of time over which it is assumed that all large events above a certain threshold are known. It might be the case though, that it is not possible to easily retrieve with sufficient confidence information on the coverage period, which therefore needs to be estimated. In this paper methods to perform such estimation are introduced and evaluated. The statistical definition of the problem corresponds to estimating the size of a population for which only few data points are available. This problem is generally refereed to as the German tanks problem, which arose during the second world war, when statistical estimates of the number of tanks available to the German army were obtained. Different estimators can be derived using different statistical estimation approaches, with the maximum spacing estimator being the minimum-variance unbiased estimator. The properties of three estimators are investigated by means of a simulation study, both for the simple estimation of the historical coverage and for the estimation of the extreme value statistical model. The maximum spacing estimator is confirmed to be a good approach to the estimation of the historical period coverage for practical use and its application for a case study in Britain is presented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-622
Number of pages16
JournalStochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment
Issue number3
Early online date8 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


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