Tightness in Skorohod Space

This post continues the theme of revising topics in the analytic toolkit relevant to proving convergence of stochastic processes. Of particular interest is the question of how to prove that families of Markov chains might have a process scaling limit converging to a solution of some stochastic differential equation, in a generalisation of Donsker’s theorem for Brownian motion. In this post, however, we address more general aspects of convergence of stochastic processes, with particular reference to Skorohod space.

Topological Background

I’ve discussed Skorohod space in a previous post. For now, we focus attention on compactly supported functions, D[0,T]. Some of what follows can be extended to the infinite-time setting easily, and some requires more work. Although we can define a metric on the space of cadlag functions in lots of ways, it is more useful to think topologically, or at least with a more vague sense of metric. We say two cadlag functions are close to one another if there is a reparameterisation of the time-axis, (a function [0,T] to itself) that is uniformly close to the identity function, and when applied to one of the cadlag functions, brings it close to the other cadlag function. Heuristically, two cadlag functions are close if their large jumps are close to one another and of similar size, and if they are uniformly close elsewhere. It is worth remembering that a cadlag function on even an unbounded interval can have only countably many jumps, and only finitely many with magnitude greater than some threshold on any compact interval.

For much of the theory one would like to use, it is useful for the spaces under investigation to be separable. Recall a topological space is separable if there exists a countable dense subset. Note in particular that D[0,T] is not separable under the uniform metric, since we can define f_x(\cdot)=\mathbf{1}_{(\cdot \ge x)} for each x\in[0,T], then ||f_x-f_y||_\infty=1 whenever x\ne y. In particular, we have an uncountable collection of disjoint open sets given by the balls \mathcal{B}(f_x,\frac12), and so the space is not countable. Similarly, C[0,\infty) is not separable. A counterexample might be given by considering functions which take the values {0,1} on the integers. Thus we have a map from \{0,1\}^{\mathbb{N}}\rightarrow C[0,\infty), where the uniform distance between any two distinct image points is at least one, hence the open balls of radius 1/2 around each image point give the same contradiction as before. However, the Stone-Weierstrass theorem shows that C[0,T] is separable, as we can approximate any such function uniformly well by a polynomial, and thus uniformly well by a polynomial with rational coefficients.

In any case, it can be shown that D[0,T] is separable with respect to the natural choice of metric. It can also be shown that there is a metric which gives the same open sets (hence is a topologically equivalent metric) under which D[0,T] is complete, and hence a Polish space.

Compactness in C[0,T] and D[0,T]

We are interested in tightness of measures on D[0,T], so first we need to address compactness for sets of deterministic functions in D[0,T]. First, we consider C[0,T]. Here, the conditions for a set of functions to be compact is given by the celebrated Arzela-Ascoli theorem. We are really interested in compactness as a property of size, so we consider instead relative compactness. A set is relatively compact (sometimes pre-compact) if its closure is compact. For the existence of subsequential limits, this is identical to compactness, only now we allow the possibility of the limit point lying outside the set.

We note that the function C[0,T]\rightarrow \mathbb{R} given by ||f||_\infty is continuous, and hence uniform boundedness is certainly a required condition for compactness in C[0,T]. Arzela-Ascoli states that uniform boundedness plus equicontinuity is sufficient for a set of such functions to be compact. Equicontinuity should be thought of as uniform continuity that is uniform among all the functions in the set, rather than just within the argument of an individual particular function.

For identical reasons, we need uniform boundedness for relative compactness in D[0,T], but obviously uniform continuity won’t work as a criterion for discontinuous functions! We seek some analogue of the modulus of continuity that ignores jumps. We define

\omega'_\delta(f):=\inf_{\{t_i\}} \max_i \sup_{s,t\in[t_{i-1},t_i)} |f(s)-f(t)|,

where the infimum is taken over all meshes 0=t_0<t_1<\ldots<t_r with t_i-t_{i-1}>\delta. Note that as \delta\downarrow 0, we can, if we want, place the t_i so that large jumps of the function f take place over the boundaries between adjacent parts of the mesh. In particular, for a given cadlag function, it can be shown fairly easily that \omega'_\delta(f)\downarrow 0 as \delta\rightarrow 0. Then, unsurprisingly, in a similar fashion to the Arzela-Ascoli theorem, it follows that a set of functions A\subset D[0,T] is relatively compact if it is uniformly bounded, and

\lim_{\delta\rightarrow 0} \sup_{f\in A}\omega'_\delta(f)=0.

Note that this ‘modulus of continuity’ needs to decay uniformly across the set of functions, but that we do not need to choose the mesh at level \delta uniformly across all functions. This would obviously not work, as then the functions \mathbf{1}_{(\cdot\ge x_n)} for any sequence x_n\rightarrow x would not be compact, but they clearly converge in Skorohod space!

Tightness in C[0,T] and D[0,T]

Naturally, we are mainly interested in (probability) measures on D[0,T], and in particular conditions for tightness on this space. Recall a family of measures is tight if for any \epsilon>0, there exists some compact set A such that

\pi(A)>1-\epsilon,\quad \forall \pi\in\Pi.

So, for measures (\mu_n) on D[0,T], the sequence is tight precisely if for any \epsilon>0, there exists M,\delta and some N such that for any n>N, both

\mu_n(||f||_\infty >M)\le \epsilon,\quad \mu_n(\omega'_\delta(f)>\epsilon)\le \epsilon

hold. In fact, the second condition controls variation sufficiently strongly, that we can replace the first condition with

\mu_n(|f(0)|>M)\le \epsilon.

Often we might be taking some sort of scaling limit of these processes in D[0,T], where the jumps become so small in the limit that we expect the limit process to be continuous, perhaps an SDE or diffusion. If we can replace \omega'_\delta by \omega_\delta, the standard modulus of continuity, then we have the additional that any weak limit lies in C[0,T].

In general, to prove convergence of some stochastic processes, we will want to show that the processes are tight, by demonstrating the properties above, or something equivalent. Then Prohorov’s theorem (which I tend to think of as a probabilistic functional version of Bolzano-Weierstrass) asserts that the family of processes has a weak subsequential limit. Typically, one then shows that any weak subsequential limit must have the law of some particular random process. Normally this is achieved by showing some martingale property (eg for an SDE) in the limit, often by using the Skorohod representation theorem to use almost sure subsequential convergence rather than merely weak convergence. Then one argues that there is a unique process with this property and a given initial distribution. So since all weak subsequential limits are this given process, in fact the whole family has a weak limit.

Ornstein-Uhlenbeck Process

A large part of my summer has been spent proving some technical results pertaining to the convergence of some functionals of a critical Frozen Percolation process. This has been worthwhile, but hasn’t involved a large amount of reading around anything in particular, which has probably contributed to the lack of posts in recent months. Perhaps a mixture of that and general laziness?

Anyway, it turns out that the limit of the discrete processes under consideration is the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process. The sense in which this limit holds (or at least, for now, is conjectured to hold) is something for another article. However, I thought it would be worth writing a bit about this particular process and why it is interesting.

The O-U process is described by the SDE

dX_t=-\beta (X_t-\mu)dt+\sigma dW_t,

where W is a standard Brownian motion. We think of \mu as the ‘mean’. The extent to which this behaves as a mean will be discussed shortly. The process is then mean-reverting, in the sense that the drift is directed against deviations of the process away from this mean. The parameter \beta measures the extent of this mean reversion, while as usual \sigma controls the magnitude of the Brownian noise.

The motivation for considering mean-reverting processes is considerable. One measure of this is how many equations with articles on Wikipedia turn out to be precisely this Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process with different context or notation. In most cases, the motivation arises because Brownian motion is for some reason unsuitable to take as a canonical random process. We will see why the O-U process is somehow the next most canonical choice for a random process.

In physics, it is sometimes unsatisfactory to model the trajectory of a particle with Brownian motion (even though this motivated the name…) as the velocities are undefined (see this post from ages ago), or infinite, depending on your definition of velocity. Using the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process to model the velocity of a particle is often a satisfactory alternative. It is not unreasonable that there should be a mean velocity, presumably zero. The mean reversion models a frictional force from the underlying medium, while the Brownian noise describes random collisions with similar particles.

In financial applications, the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck model has been applied, apparently under the title of the Vasicek model since the 70s to describe quantities such as interest rates where there is some underlying reason to ban indefinite growth, and require mean reversion. Another setting might be a commodity which, because of external driving factors, has over the relevant time-scale well-defined mean value, around which mean-reverting fluctuations on the observed time-scale can be described. As with other financial models, it is undesirable for a process to take negative values. This can be fixed by taking a positive mean, then setting the volatility to be state dependent, decaying to zero as the state tends to zero, so for small values, the positive drift dominates. I don’t fully understand why patching this aspect is significantly more important than patching any other non-realistic properties of the model, but the resulting SDE is, at least in one particular case where the volatility is \sqrt{X_t}, called the Cox-Ingersoll-Ross model.

Anyway, a mathematical reason to pay particular attention to this Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process is the following. It is the unique family of continuous Markov processes to have a stationary Gaussian distribution. It is the mean-reverting property that is key. There is no chance of Brownian motion having any stationary distribution, let alone a Gaussian one. If this isn’t clear, you can convince yourself by thinking of the stationary distribution of SRW on \mathbb{Z}. Since the process is space-homogeneous, the only stationary measure is the uniform measure.

I want to focus on one particular property of the O-U process, through which some other aspects will be illuminated. If we take \sigma=\beta and let \beta\rightarrow\infty, then the stationary processes converge to white noise.

First though, we should note this is perhaps the easiest SDE to solve explicitly. We consider X_t e^{\theta t}, and applying Ito’s lemma rapidly gives

X_t=\mu + (X_0-\mu)e^{-\beta t}+\sigma\int_0^t e^{-\beta(t-s)}dW_s.

W is Gaussian so the distribution of X_t conditional on X_0=x_0 is also Gaussian, and since W is centred we can read off the expectation. Applying the Ito isometry then gives the variance. In conclusion:

X_t\stackrel{d}{=}\mathcal{N}(\mu+(x_0-\mu)e^{-\beta t}, \frac{\sigma^2}{\beta}(1-e^{-2\beta t})).

In particular, note that the variation has no dependence on x_0. So as t grows to infinity, this converges to \mathcal{N}(\mu, \frac{\sigma^2}{\beta}). This is, unsurprisingly, the stationary distribution of the process.

To address the white noise convergence, we need to consider \text{Cov}(X_0,X_t) in stationarity. Let’s assume WLOG that \mu=0 so most of the expectations will vanish. We obtain

\text{Cov}(X_0,X_t)=\mathbb{E}[X_0X_t]=\mathbb{E}_{x_0}\left[\mathbb{E}[X_t| X_0=x_0]\right]=\mathbb{E}[X_0^2 e^{-\beta t}]= \frac{sigma^2}{2\beta}2^{-\beta t}.

If we want, the Chapman-Kolmogorov equations work particularly nicely here, and we are able to derive a PDE for the evolution of the density function, though obviously this is very related to the result above. This PDE is known as the Fokker-Planck equation.

So, in particular, when \sigma=\beta\rightarrow \infty, this covariance tends to 0. I’m not purporting that this constitutes a proof that the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck processes converge as processes to white noise. It’s not obvious how to define process convergence, not least because there’s flexibility about how to view white noise as a process. One doesn’t really want to define the value of white noise at a particular time, but you can consider the covariance of integrals of white noise over disjoint intervals as a limit, in similar way to convergence of finite dimensional distributions.

The fact that taking \beta=0 gives Brownian motion, and this case gives white noise, intermediate versions of the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process are sometimes referred to as coloured noise.

Finally, the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process emerges as the scaling limit of mean-reverting discrete Markov chains, analogous to Brownian motion as the scaling limit of simple random walk. One particularly nice example is the Ehrenfest Urn model. We have two urns, and 2N balls. In each time step one of the 2N balls is chosen uniformly at random, and it is moved to the other urn. So a ball is more likely to be removed from an urn with more than N balls. We can view this as a model for molecules in, say a room, with a slightly porous division between them, eg a small hole. More complicated interface models in higher dimensions lead to fascinating PDEs, such as the famous KPZ equation, which are the subject of much ongoing interest in this area.

This result can be an application of the theory of convergence of Markov chains to SDEs pioneered by Stroock and Varadhan, about which more may follow very soon. In any case, it turns out that the fluctuations in the Ehrenfest Urn model are on the scale of \sqrt{n}, unsurprisingly, and are given by a centred Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process.

Investigating this has reminded me how much I’ve forgotten, or perhaps how little I ever knew, about the technicalities of stochastic processes are their convergence results, so next up will probably be a summary of all the useful definitions and properties for this sort of analysis.