Multidimensional Arrays

xarray architecture


Teaching: 5 min
Exercises: 5 min
  • What functionality does the xarray library offer?

  • What are the benefits and limitations of this library?

  • What is the fundamental architecture of xarray data objects?

  • learning the xarray data model

  • selection and subsetting of array datasets using labeled indexing

What is xarray?

When to use xarray:

Basic xarray data structures:


* dimensions (x, y, time); variables (temp, precip); coords (lat, long); attributes


begin by importing the xarray library

import xarray as xr

Open the dataset

First we open the data and load it into a Dataset. (Note: the choice of engine depends on the format of the netCDF file. See our dataset description lesson).

ds = xr.open_dataset('../data/')

(NOTE: here and elsewhere, replace <rootDir> with the full path to your own data directory)

You’ll notice this seemed to go very fast. That is because this step does not actually ask Python to read the data into memory. Rather, Python is just scanning the contents of the file. This is called lazy loading.

Dataset Properties

Next we will ask xarray to display some of the parameters of the Dataset. To do this simply return the contents of the Dataset variable name:


Displaying Dataset properties

Try looking up the coordinates (coords), attributes (attrs) and data variables (data_vars) for our existing dataset. Look at the output and think about what this tells us about our sample dataset.

Extracting DataArrays from a Dataset

We have queried the dataset details about our Datset dimensions, coordinates and attributes. Next we will look at the variable data contained within the dataset. In the graphic above, there are two variables (temperature and precipitation). As described above, xarray stores these observations as a DataArray, which is similar to a conventional array you would find in numpy or matlab.

Extracting a DataArray for processing is simple. From the Dataset metadata shown above, notice that the name of the climate variable is ‘t2m’ (2 meter air temperature). Suppose we want to extract that array for processing and store it to a new variable called temperature:

temperature = ds['t2m']

Now, take a look at the contents of the temperature variable. Note that the associated coordinates and attributes get carried along for the ride. Also note that we are still not reading any data into memory.

Key Points