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MINT Data Format Convention Proposal

  • Target: Structured gridded data
  • Version: Draft 3
  • Author/POC: Hayley Song (
  • Last Modified: Sep 25, 2019

The purpose of this document is to propose a self-describing data format for structured gridded datasets for MINT data catalog and visualization based on the NetCDF and the CF convention.

Brief summary on NetCDF

NetCDF (network Common Data Form) is a file format for storing multidimensional scientific data (variables) such as pressure, surface temperature, soil moisture content and wind speed. It has been adopted as a standard way to represent scientific data as it facilitates data access. Its main advantages are1:

  • self-describing: it includes information about the data it continas so that no external tables are needed to interpret it
  • machine-independent: portable across different platforms, eg. MacOS, Windows, Linux
  • scalable: a small subset of a large netCDF file can be accessed efficinetly without reading the entire file

We would like to start a discussion on the common convention for structured gridded data for MINT by proposing the following specifications. We have consulted the Unidata group's recommendation on the netCDF attributions for data discovery as well as the CF Conventions, the Attirubte Convention for Data Discovery (ACDD), and the Open Geospatial Convention document.

The purpose of this specification is to establish a unified NetCDF format within MINT (and in the near future, among World Moderlers) for an efficient data exchange and knowledge discovery. In addition, we have created an interactive tool for explororing datasets conforming to this specification (See Figure 1 for a quick demo). We welcome your comments, questions, and any suggestions you might have. Please submit your comments here.

Demo: Interactive visualization tool

fldas-demo-1 fldas-demo-1
fldas-demo-2 fldas-demo-3


NetCDF convention for MINT structured gridded datasets 0. Required dimensions - X, Y, time bnds - units

  1. Attribute Convention
    • Global attributes: per data file
    • Variable attributes: per variable
  1. Examples

  2. Related materials

Dimensions Convention

MINT NetCDF Visualization requires the input NetCDF file to have the following three dimensions specified. Any violation to the naming convention will likely cause an error in visualization.

Name Description Required fields
X Longitude unit (eg: km)*
Y Latitude unit (eg: km)*
time Time unit (as a valid udunit)*
bnds Number of bands, ie. dimensionality of a value in each grid cell. (eg: 1 for a scalar, 3 for RGB, 4 for RGBA)

units*: units of the data contained by the variable; must be a valid udunits string. For example, “m” (meter), “km” (kilometer), “degrees_north” (for latitude), “degrees_east” (for longitude),


  1. Time

Two conventions for storing a date/time into a netCDF variable are:

  • CF-compliant: as a numeric value with a udunits time unit, such as "seconds since 1992-10-8 15:00:00"
  • ISO-compliant: as a string using ISO 8601 encoding, such as "2010-10-25T12:00:00Z".

Example of dimensions following MINT convention

In addition to the unit field, each dimension is strongely encouraged to contain coordinates. For example:

Dimensions:                 (X: 294, Y: 348, bnds: 2, time: 1)
 * time                    (time) datetime64[ns] 2017-01-01
 * X                       (X) float64 22.05 22.15 22.25 ... 51.15 51.25 51.35
 * Y                       (Y) float64 -11.75 -11.65 -11.55 ... 22.85 22.95
Dimensions without coordinates: bnds
Data variables:
   Evap_tavg               (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   LWdown_f_tavg           (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Lwnet_tavg              (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Psurf_f_tavg            (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Qair_f_tavg             (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Qg_tavg                 (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Qh_tavg                 (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Qle_tavg                (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Qs_tavg                 (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Qsb_tavg                (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   RadT_tavg               (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Rainf_f_tavg            (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SM01_Percentile         (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SWdown_f_tavg           (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SoilMoi00_10cm_tavg     (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SoilMoi100_200cm_tavg   (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SoilMoi10_40cm_tavg     (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SoilMoi40_100cm_tavg    (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SoilTemp00_10cm_tavg    (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SoilTemp100_200cm_tavg  (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SoilTemp10_40cm_tavg    (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   SoilTemp40_100cm_tavg   (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Swnet_tavg              (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Tair_f_tavg             (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   Wind_f_tavg             (time, Y, X) float32 ...
   time_bnds               (time, bnds) datetime64[ns] ...

Attribute Convention

Note that the attribute names link to the Unidata definitions, and each element is marked with M,R,O, or C depedning on our specificationn requirement

  • M: Mandatory
  • R: Recommended
  • O: Optional
  • C: Mandatory under certain conditions
    • eg. If the dataset has a time dimension, time_coverage_start field is mandatory. In this case we mark time_coverage_start as C
    • Similarly, if the dataset has a spatial dimension, geospatial_bounds_crs field is mandatory, and will be marked as C
  1. Global attributes
Attribute Requirement Description Example
title M a short description of the dataset
summary R a paragraph describing the dataset
naming_authority M the organization that provides the dataset id (below). We recommend using URIs or reverse-DNS naming edu.isi.workflow
id M UUID as generated by MINT's data catalog system, appended by MINT Workflow ID
keywords R a comma separated list of keywords and phrasts
comment O micellaneous information about the data
date_created M the date on which the data was created
date_modified M the date on which this data was last modified
date_issued R the date on which this data was formally issued
creator_name R the data creator's name
creator_email M the email address of the data creator
institution R institution in charge of the dataset
project R the scientific project that produced the data
history R a static value, "created by MINT workflow"
convention R MINT-{versionNumber}

Time coordinate variable

Values shall be formatted as specified by ISO 8601:2004.

Attribute Requirement Description Example
time_coverage_start C
time_coverage_end C
time_coverage_duration R
time_coverage_resolution C
time_units C a string “units since YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss”

Geospatial coordinate variable

  1. Coordinate Reference System Format
    There are numerous formats that are used to document a CRS. Three common formats are proj.4, EPSG, and Well-known Text (WKT) formats. Refer to this tutorial for details on conversions among these formats. Following the OGC, we require the geospatial bounds be specified as EPSG code which is a 4-5 digit number that represents particular CRS definition.

    • List of EPSG codes
    • useful service to search EPSG codes
    • eg: "EPSG:4326", "urn:ogc:def:crs:EPSG::4326"
    • use the string format “+init=epsg:<your_code>” as the value
  2. Other attributes (eg. geospatial_lat_min)

    • Values type (except for the geospatial_bounds_crs) should be floating point
    • Units of measurement should be degrees with positive latitudes in the North hemisphere and longitude values increasing toward east
    • The minimum lat/lon must be smaller or equal to the maximum lat/lon
Attribute Requirement Description Example
geospatial_bounds_crs C EPSG code "+init=epsg:4326"
geospatial_lat_min O southernmost latitude covered by the dataset
geospatial_lat_max O northernmost latitude
geospatial_lon_min O easternmost longitude
geospatial_lon_min O westernmost longitude
geospatial_bounds R lon_min, lat_min, lon_max, lat_max
  1. Variable attributes
Attribute Requirement Description Example
title* M a brief description of the dataset
standard_name* R a name for the variable from a standard list of names listed in the Scientific Variables Ontology
long_name* R a long descriptive name for the variable
units* M units of the data contained by the variable; must be a valid udunits string “m” (meter), “km” (kilometer), “degrees_north” (for latitude), “degrees_east” (for longitude), “K” (temperature in Kelvin), “Pa” (pressure in Pascal)
valid_min M
valid_max M
valid_range M
missing_value M
fill_value M

Related materials

  • Unidata's CF Convention: Official doc, Overview slides
  • CF Metadata conventions Official doc
  • List of netCDF Conventions - link
  • CF standard name stable (for standard_name attribute) - link
  • Attribute Convention for Data Discovery convention: link
  • udunits (for units attribute) - Official doc
  • CRS (for CRS's epsg code)
  • Example netCDF file - link

Related tutorials

    • How to use xarray (Python library)
      • Read netcdf files as a Dataset and manipulate data
      • Create a Dataset representing a NetCDF
        • Define labelled dimensions (optionally with coordinate data)
      • Write to a file

1: A quick tour of netCDF data: link


Data format convention for NetCDF files






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