Handling NetCDF files

PISM takes one or more NetCDF files as input, performs some computation, and then produces one or more NetCDF files as output. However, other tools are usually needed to help to extract meaning from NetCDF files, and yet more NetCDF tools help with creating PISM input files or post-processing PISM output files.

Here we list a number of NetCDF tools that can be useful in preparing input data for use with PISM and post-processing results; see Table 20.

Table 20 A selection of tools for viewing and modifying NetCDF files.



ncdump (part of NetCDF)

dump binary NetCDF as .cdl (text) file

ncgen (part of NetCDF)

convert .cdl file to binary NetCDF


quick graphical view


Climate Data Operators; command-line tools, including conservative re-mapping


more complete visualization


NetCDF Operators; command-line tools for pre- and post-processing


NCAR Command Language


Python version of NCL

The PISM authors use ncview and “ncdump -h” for quick visualization and metadata examination. NCO has powerful command-line manipulation of NetCDF files, but requires some learning. Another such command-line tool is CDO, but to use CDO on PISM files first run the script nc2cdo.py, from the util/ PISM directory, on the file to fix the metadata so that CDO will understand the mapping. Finally, Python scripts using the netcdf4-python package (see Installing PISM) are often the best way to non-trivially change a NetCDF file or make publishable figures from it. MATLAB also has good NetCDF I/O capabilities.

See Table 4 in section A hierarchy of simplifying assumptions for grounded ice flow for an overview on the data necessary for modeling. For more information on the format of input files for PISM, see section Initialization and bootstrapping.

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