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Convert Sigma Space Micro Pulse Lidar (MPL) data files and afterpulse, overlap and dead time correction files to NetCDF.

mpl2nc is a Python program for converting binary MPL files to NetCDF4. The converted variables closely follow those in the binary files. See the Micro Pulse LiDAR System Software Manual for description of the original format and variables. In contrast to the official SigmaMPL software, mpl2nc preserves the native resolution of the data and allows easier batch operation on many input files. The program can run on any operating system with Python 2.7 or Python 3 and the netCDF4 Python package installed. Raw lidar backscatter is stored in the channel_1 (cross-polarized) and channel_2 (co-polarized) variables. Normalized relative backscatter (NRB) is calculated from the raw backscatter (experimental). If afterpulse, overlap and dead time correction files are supplied, the corrections are applied when calculating NRB.

Note that the vendor-supplied dead time correction is known to be incorrect in some instances. The dead time bin files use 32-bit floating point values to store polynomial coefficients, which may be truncated due to the limited precision of the data type. Using such dead time correction with mpl2nc or the SigmaMPL software will result in wrong calibration.


mpl2nc is supposed to be run from the command line. Linux is recommended, but it may be possible to run mpl2nc under Anaconda on other operating systems.


mpl2nc [-a <afterpulse>] [-d <dead_time>] [-h] [-o <overlap>] [-q] [-v] [<input>] <output>

Optional arguments:

  • -a <afterpulse>: Afterpulse correction file (.bin).
  • -d <dead_time>: Dead time correction file (.bin).
  • -h: Show help message and exit.
  • -o <overlap>: Overlap correction file (.bin).
  • -q: Run quietly (suppress output).
  • -v: Show program's version number and exit.

Positional arguments:

  • input: Input .mpl file or a directory containing .mpl files.
  • output: Output .nc file or a directory where the resulting .nc files are written.

If input is not specified, only the correction files are converted and written to output.

Currently only afterpulse correction file version 3 (SigmaMPL2013R1.0 and later) is supported.

See also the man page for information about usage:

man mpl2nc


mpl2nc -a MMPL5054_Afterpulse_201903220500.bin -o MMPL5054_Overlap_201903270700.bin -d MMPL5054_SPCM34184_Deadtime7.bin 201803040300.mpl

Convert 201803040300.mpl to using correction files for afterpulse, overlap and dead time.

mpl2nc -a MMPL5054_Afterpulse_201903220500.bin -o MMPL5054_Overlap_201903270700.bin -d MMPL5054_SPCM34184_Deadtime7.bin in out

Convert MPL files in the directory in to NetCDF files in the directory out using correction files for afterpulse, overlap and dead time.

mpl2nc -a MMPL5054_Afterpulse_201903220500.bin -o MMPL5054_Overlap_201903270700.bin -d MMPL5054_SPCM34184_Deadtime7.bin

Convert afterpulse, overlap and dead time correction files to the NetCDF file


Install the required software:

  • Python 2.7 or 3 (recommended Anaconda on Windows)
  • numpy Python package
  • netCDF4 Python package

numpy and netCDF4 can be installed with pip if available in your Python distribution:

pip install numpy netCDF4

To install mpl2nc with pip:

pip install mpl2nc

Optionally, to install from the source distribution:

python install

You can also run the script mpl2nc directly without installation.

NetCDF output description


  • profile – backscatter profile
  • range – backscatter range
  • ap_range – afterpulse range
  • ol_range – overlap range



Variable Description Units Comment
ap_background_average_copol afterpulse co pol background average count.µs-1
ap_background_average_crosspol afterpulse cross pol background average count.µs-1
ap_energy afterpulse energy µJ
ap_file_version afterpulse file version
ap_header afterpulse header
ap_number_bins afterpulse number of bins count
ap_number_channels afterpulse number of channels count
c speed of light m.s-1
dt_coeff dead time coefficient N coefficients of polynomial degree N-1 in decreasing order
dt_coeff_degree dead time coefficient degree count
dt_number_coeff dead time number of coefficients count
ol_number_bins overlap number of bins count

1D (ap_range)

Variable Description Units Comment
ap_copol afterpulse co pol values count.µs-1
ap_crosspol afterpulse cross pol values count.µs-1
ap_range afterpulse range km

1D (ol_range)

Variable Description Units Comment
ol_overlap overlap values
ol_range overlap range km

1D (profile)

Variable Description Units Comment
ad_data_bad_flag A/D data bad flag 0: A/D data good, 1: A/D data probably out of sync. Energy monitor collection is not exactly aligned with MCS shots.
azimuth_angle azimuth angle degrees Azimuth angle of scanner.
background_average background average count.µs-1 Background Average for Channel #1.
background_average_2 background average (channel 2) count.µs-1 Background Average for Channel #2.
background_stddev background standard deviation count.µs-1 Background Standard Deviation for Channel #1.
background_stddev_2 background standard deviation (channel 2) count.µs-1 Background Standard Deviation for Channel #2.
bin_time bin time s Bin width (100, 200, or 500 nanoseconds).
compass_degrees compass degrees degrees Compass degrees (currently unused).
data_file_version data file version Version of the file format.
elevation_angle elevation angle degrees Elevation angle of scanner.
energy_monitor energy monitor mJ Mean of the Energy Monitor readings * 1000.
first_background_bin first background bin Used primarily for MiniMPL (will always be 0 for normal MPL as background is collected pre-trigger).
first_data_bin first data bin Bin # of the first return data.
gps_altitude GPS altitude m GPS altitude (optional).
gps_latitude GPS latitude degrees north GPS latitude (optional).
gps_longitude GPS longitude degrees east GPS longitude (optional).
mcs_mode MCS mode MCS mode register.
num_background_bins number of background bins count Number of background bins following First Background Bin.
number_channels number of channels count MCS Channels collected. Either 1 or 2.
number_data_bins number of data bins count
polarization_voltage_0 polarization voltage 0 Not used.
polarization_voltage_1 polarization voltage 1 Not used.
range_calibration range calibration m Default is 0; will indicate range calibration offset measured for particular unit.
scan_scenario_flags scan scenario flags 0: No scan scenario used, 1: Scan scenario used].
shots_sum shots sum count Number of laser shots collected.
sync_pulses_seen_per_second sync pulses seen per second count.s-1 MiniMPL Only; indicates average number of laser pulses seen to validate if laser is operating correctly.
system_type system type 0: Normal MPL, 1: MiniMPL.
temp_0 A/D #0 mean Mean of the A/D #0 readings * 100.
temp_1 A/D #1 mean Mean of the A/D #1 readings * 100.
temp_2 A/D #2 mean Mean of the A/D #2 readings * 100.
temp_3 A/D #3 mean Mean of the A/D #3 readings * 100.
temp_4 A/D #4 mean Mean of the A/D #4 readings * 100.
time time seconds since 1970-01-01 00:00:00 Record collection time.
time_utc UTC time ISO 8601 Record collection time (UTC).
trigger_frequency trigger frequency Hz Laser fire rate (usually 2500).
unit unit Unique number for each data system.
version version Software version of the EXE that created this file. If the SigmaMPL.exe version is 3.00 then this value would be 300.
ws_barometric_pressure barometric pressure hPa Weather station barometric pressure.
ws_dewpoint dewpoint temperature Weather station dewpoint.
ws_inside_humidity inside humidity percent Weather station inside humidity.
ws_inside_temp inside temperature Weather station inside temperature.
ws_outside_humidity outside humidity percent Weather station outside humidity.
ws_outside_temp outside temperature Weather station outside temperature.
ws_rain_rate rain rate mm.h-1 Weather station rain rate.
ws_used weather station used 0: Weather station not used, 1: Weather station used.
ws_wind_direction wind direction degree Weather station wind direction.
ws_wind_speed wind speed km.h-1 Weather station wind speed.

2D (profile × range)

Variable Description Units Comment
channel_1 channel #1 data count.µs-1 For MPL systems without POL-FS option, the return signal array is stored here. For MPL systems with the POL-FS option, the cross-polarized return signal array is stored here.
channel_2 channel #2 data count.µs-1 Used only with POL-FS option. The co-polarized return signal array is stored here.
nrb_copol copol normalized relative backscatter count.µs-1.µJ-1.km2 Experimental.
nrb_crosspol crosspol normalized relative backscatter count.µs-1.µJ-1.km2 Experimental.


Variable Description
created UTC time in ISO 8601 format when the file was created.
software Software identification (mpl2nc (
version mpl2nc version.

Additional information

Range calculation

Range can be calculated as 0.5*bin_time*c*([0, ..., n - 1] + 0.5), where n is the number of bins.


mpl2nc uses the following formula to calculate NRB:

nrb_copol = (channel_2*dtcf(channel_2) - background_average_2*dtcf(background_average_2) -
            ap_copol*dtcf(ap_copol)*energy_monitor*1e-3/ap_energy +
nrb_crosspol = (channel_1*dtcf(channel_1) - background_average_1*dtcf(background_average_1) -
               ap_crosspol*dtcf(ap_crosspol)*energy_monitor*1e-3/ap_energy +

where range is range in m and dtcf is a function which calculates the dead time correction factor for given photon counts. The correction fields are interpolated on the data range.


This software can be used, modified and distributed freely under the terms of an MIT license (see in the source distribution).

Release notes

Version numbering follows Semantic Versioning.

1.3.5 (2020-07-18)

  • Fixed installation on Windows.

1.3.3 (2020-02-02)

  • Python 3 compatibility.

1.3.2 (2020-02-01)

  • mpl2nc man page.

1.3.1 (2020-02-01)

  • When input is a directory convert files in alphabetical order.

1.3.0 (2020-02-01)

  • Fixed NRB issues (swaped channels and incorrect application of the dead time correction).
  • Fixed command line argument processing.

1.2.0 (2019-12-20)

  • Support for afterpulse, overlap and dead time correction files.
  • NRB (experimental).

1.1.1 (2018-04-19)

  • Fixed type conversion bug on Windows.

1.1.0 (2018-04-18)

  • Added global file attributes.
  • Fixed syntax error in the script.

1.0.0 (2018-04-18)

  • Initial version.


For support or reporting bugs contact Peter Kuma <>.

See also

ALCF, cl2nc, mrr2c, ccplot


Convert Sigma Space Micro Pulse Lidar (MPL) data files to NetCDF





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