About Nansat mappers


GDAL can read most satellite EO and NetCDF-CF compliant raster data relevant for Earth sciences. However, GDAL does not attach meaning to the contained information, i.e., it does not specify what kind of data is contained in a given band, e.g., if it is water-leaving-radiance used for monitoring of water quality. Nansat provides a mapping between geophysical variables of known meaning and the raster bands provided in the “Datasets” returned by GDAL.

The modules within the mappers package each contain a class defining the mapping between the bands returned from GDAL and metadata vocabularies provided via the py-thesaurus-interface package. For example, the simplest mapper for Meris level-1 data explicitly states that the first 15 bands are upwelling_spectral_radiance at 15 wavelengths and that the 16th band contains quality flags. The description of these bands require some compulsory metadata attributes to be defined in the mapper. These attributes follow certain given conventions:

By using these conventions, the mappers thus attach unambiguous geophysical meaning to variables following the given standards. This allows the user to open and use a geo-refenced raster dataset with Nansat without depending on detailed apriori knowledge about the origin or type of the data.


When we open a file with Nansat:

#!/usr/bin/env python
n = Nansat(filename)

these steps follow:

  • The Nansat constructor calls gdal.Open(filename) to open the file with GDAL, and returns a GDAL Dataset with a list of available raster bands

  • The Nansat constructor loops through available mappers and parses the Dataset to the mapper

    • Each mapper checks if the input Dataset is appropriate for the mapper, i.e., if the format, the metadata and the set of bands in the Dataset corresponds to what is expected in the mapper

      • If the Dataset is not valid, the mapper silently fails and the next mapper is tested

      • If the Dataset fits the mapper:

        • the mapper creates a GDAL VRT file with georeference and raster bands corresponding to the “well known variables” in nersc-vocabularies and adds respective metadata to each band (standard_name, units, etc).

  • The mapper object, which is an instance of the VRT-class, is then returned to the Nansat instance as an attribute named vrt (Nansat.vrt)

The VRT has the following properties:

  • we can use any available GDAL API functions, e.g., warping or exporting

  • it contains georeferencing recognised by GDAL

  • we can add PixelFunctions for, e.g., calculation of speed given two vector components of wind or current

  • still it contains only Raster Bands with metadata which correspond to any of the NANSAT “Well Known Variables”

The Dataset may, e.g., be subsetted, reprojected, merged, etc., by simply modifying the VRT-file, either automatically by the GDAL high level applications/functions, or with NANSAT-specific Python logic. An important benefit of this approach is that we employ the lazy processing concept in GDAL.


No processing or file reading/writing is performed before it is needed.

The VRT file defines a set of operations in xml format. When information is needed, data is extracted as numpy arrays for further processing or plotting. As such, we basically use the GDAL Datamodel and do not need to design our own.

Technical details

  • The VRT-file is stored in memory using GDAL VSI-approach

  • The VRT-class is a wrapper around the VRT-file. It has methods for generating, modifying, copying and other operations with VRT-files. VRT-class uses both GDAL methods and direct writing for modifying the VRT-file.

  • Each mapper inherits the VRT-class.

Where to put new mappers?

If you have created a new mapper, you can either submit a pull request for inclusion in the nansat mappers package, or you can make a namespace package to let nansat discover your mapper automatically. This is done the following way:

  1. Create a directory called nansat_mappers within a directory on your $PYTHONPATH

  2. Inside nansat_mappers, create the file __init__.py with the following lines:

# __init__.py
from pkgutil import extend_path
__path__ = extend_path(__path__, __name__)
  1. Add your mapper module (the filename should start with mapper_ and end with .py) to the nansat_mappers folder

  2. Reload your shell and start Python

  3. Nansat should now find you mapper.

Note that user defined mappers have higher priority than standard mappers.

Required metadata added in the mappers

  • TODO: add list of required metadata

Adding mapper tests

TODO: add documentation about how to write mapper tests