Pangeo and Data

Pangeo provides the computational tools to do scalable analysis of large geoscience datasets. For decades, our field has operated on a “download model,” under which scientists download the data they wish to analyze from remote FTP servers to their personal computers. Pangeo operates on a different philosophy: we bring the computer to the data. The Pangeo Deployments provide high-performance computing clusters in close proximity to high-performance storage. Many widely used datasets are already stored on these systems.

If you are interested in analyzing a specific large dataset, you should attempt to determine if this dataset is already stored on an existing Deployments; you can then request access to that specific deployment to perform your analysis. Alternatively, if you lab or group already operates a data repository, you can consider deploying a Pangeo environment on computing resources proximal to the data server (consult the Deployment Setup Guides for more detail).

We envision a future in which all relevant data is readily accessible to scalable computing; this will likely require the large-scale migration to the cloud. We aren’t there yet, but Pangeo is working towards this goal.


The capability to read data in pangeo is dependent on the underlying Packages. The file formats and options are largely determined by:

Data on HPC

Many high-performance computing clusters serve as de-facto data repositories, particularly for the model simulations that run on those systems. Pangeo provides a way to leverage those same systems for data analysis. The most common data formats encountered on HPC systems are netCDF and HDF. Pangeo on HPC works well with the standard archives of netCDF files commonly encountered on such systems.

Particular effort has been made to integrate Pangeo with the systems operated by NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Lab, in particular the Cheyenne, Geyser, and Caldera clusters. NCAR’s Research Data Archive catalogs a huge number of datasets available from those clusters via the GLADE file systems. All of those datasets are accessible to Pangeo now via the Cheyenne deployment.

Specific use case examples which load data from HPC platforms include:

  • Sean’s thing

  • What else?

Data in the Cloud

The Pangeo community is very excited about the opportunities presented by the cloud for scientific research in terms of scalability, reproducibility, and efficiency. However, the cloud presents new challenges: the data formats that work well on personal computers and HPC systems don’t necessarily translate well to the cloud environment. For an overview of these challenges, we recommend Matt Rocklin’s excellent blog post:

The Pangeo community is actively engaged in defining what constitutes “analysis ready geoscience data” on the cloud. We are experimenting with many different technologies and options. This is a rapidly evolving area. If you have ideas on this topic you would like to share with our community, please reach out to us on Github.

Our current preference for storing multidimensional array data in the cloud is the Zarr format. Zarr is a new storage format which, thanks to its simple yet well-designed specification, makes large datasets easily accessible to distributed computing. In Zarr datasets, the arrays are divided into chunks and compressed. These individual chunks can be stored as files on a filesystem or as objects in a cloud storage bucket. The metadata are stored in lightweight .json files. Zarr works well on both local filesystems and cloud-based object stores. Existing datasets can easily be converted to zarr via xarray’s zarr functions.

Google Cloud Storage Data Catalog

Thanks to our NSF Award, Pangeo has a substantial allocation on Google Cloud Platform which we are currently using to host several large datasets. These datasets are directly accessible from any Google Cloud Pangeo deployment, e.g. Pangeo Cloud.

See the list of available data sets in the data catalog.

Guide to Preparing Cloud-Optimized Data

How do you get data into the cloud in a format that is optimized for pangeo to read? This guide outlines our current practices for converting netCDF data to Zarr and placing it on the cloud. These recommendations may change as cloud storage technology evolves.


One important difference between local data storage and cloud data storage is that local storage is based on individual files while Zarr is based on entire datasets (which may be derived from many individual files, a.k.a. “granules”). When preparing data for cloud storage, you should ask what is the entire dataset we want to work with? That’s what you will be preparing and uploading.

  1. Open your Entire Dataset in Xarray.

    Xarray is designed to load many netCDF files into a single xarray.Dataset object. The easiest way to accomplish this is using the xarray.open_mfdataset() function. Suppose you have a directory full of netCDF files that comprise a single dataset stored in the directory /path/to/mydataset. If the files are properly formatted and sufficiently homogeneous, you can open them with a single line of xarray code.

    import xarray as xr
    ds = xr.open_mfdataset('/path/to/mydataset/*.nc')

    More complicated datasets can be constructed manually by using xarray.concat() and xarray.merge() to combine individual files or sub-datasets into a single object.

    In creating your dataset, you should pay particular attention to the Dask chunk size. Consult xarray’s documentation on chunking and performance for guidance on choosing appropriately sized chunks. You may wish to manually specify the chunks argument when calling xarray.open_dataset and xarray.open_mfdataset.

    Inspect the representation of your dataset by printing its representation (i.e. print(ds)) and examining its full metadata ( Make sure all the expected variables and metadata are present and have the correct shape / chunk structure.

  2. Export to Zarr Format

    The next step is to export your xarray.Dataset to a zarr Directory Store. This is done as follows

    ds.to_zarr('/path/to/output/mydataset', consolidated=True)

    If /path/to/output/mydataset does not exist yet, it will be created. (It’s best if it does not exist, as conflicts with existing files could cause problems.)

    If your dataset is very large, this can take a very long time. The speed is generally constrained by the rate at which the data can be read from the storage device where the original files are located. If you are on a high-performance cluster, you might consider using Dask.distributed to parallelize the operation across multiple nodes.

    Xarray and Zarr have many different options for encoding and compression of the datasets. This can be passed to to_zarr via the encoding keyword argument. Consult the relevant xarray documentation and zarr documentation for more detail. In our somewhat limited experience, the default encoding and compression perform adequately for most purposes.

  3. Upload to Cloud Storage

    Once the export to zarr is complete, you now upload the directory and all its contents to cloud storage. In order to do this step, you will need the command line utilities from your cloud provider installed on your system. In this example, we use Google Cloud Platform, which requires installing the Google Cloud SDK.

    First you must authenticate to obtain credentials to perform the upload:

    gcloud auth login

    Now you can upload the dataset to the cloud-storage bucket of your choice. In this example, we upload to the pangeo-data bucket on Google Cloud Storage:

    gsutil -m cp -r /path/to/output/mydataset gs://pangeo-data/

    This command can also take a long time to execute, depending on the size of your dataset and the bandwidth of your internet connection. The dataset will be available at the pangeo-data/mydataset path.

  4. Verify Dataset from a Pangeo Cloud Deployment

    The data you uploaded should be read from a Pangeo deployment in the same cloud and the same region as the bucket in which it resides. Otherwise, you may suffer from diminished performance and accrue extra charges for data transfers. The pangeo-data bucket is in Google Cloud Storage in the US-CENTRAL1 region. It can therefore be accessed by the flagship deployment.

    To open the dataset we just uploaded from within a notebook or script in, do the following:

    import xarray as xr
    import gcsfs
    gcs = gcsfs.GCSFileSystem(requester_pays=True)
    ds = xr.open_zarr(gcs.get_mapper('gs://pangeo-data/mydataset'),

    You should see all the variables and metadata from your original dataset in step 1. The dataset will automatically be created with Dask chunks matching the underlying zarr chunks.