Working with NetCDF data

The NetCDF data format is widely used in the Geosciences and in atmospheric science, so if you work in these fields there is a good chance you will encounter a NetCDF file at some point. So how do you work with this data in ArcGIS?

“NetCDF (network Common Data Form) is a file format for storing multidimensional scientific data (variables) such as temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed, and direction. Each of these variables can be displayed through a dimension (such as time) in ArcGIS by making a layer or table view from the netCDF file.” (Esri ArcGSI 10 Desktop Help)

The point here is that NetCDF is a multidimensional raster data, so each cell has multiple values.

You can load NetCDF data into MS Excel, using this add-in:

Expert users of NetCDF data usually do their processing in Matlab.

ArcGIS comes with a special toolbox for NetCDF data, called the Multidimension Tools. This is how to load NetCDF data:

When you get unknown NetCDF data, you probably want to to visually inspect it. So to load NetCDF data into ArcMap, run the tool Make NetCDF Raster Layer. At this point do not specify a band dimension:


Once the data is loaded, go to the properties of the resulting layer and play with the dataset’s dimensions – frequently these are  timestamps:netcdf2

Click Apply or OK to visualize data for the selected dimension. If you want to convert the displayed dimension from  NetCDF to other formats, right-click the layer and go to Data > Export.

Want to learn more about using NetCDF data in ArcGIS? Esri have a good and short NetCDF tutorial.

If you need to work frequently with NetCDF data on a technical level it is worth reading at least the Wikpedia article and for GIS experts there is of course OGC standards or NetCDF.


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