Working with Geoscience Data in MATLAB

MATLAB supports many data formats and file types, such as NetCDF, HDF, and USGS Landsat 8. These common formats are the currency by which data is exchanged among research scientists, data facilities, and even code-hosting sites such as GitHub and Dropbox.

Before starting any project, you need to know the input data formats and select your target output format. In addition to supporting a wide range of geoscience-related formats, MATLAB supports many general-purpose data exchange formats and tools, such as CSV and web services. Alternatively, you can use the built-in MATLAB MAT file format.

Working with NetCDF NASA Data in MATLAB: An Exploration of Ocean Color and Sea Surface Temperature


Data Format and Web Service Support

MATLAB supports a variety of standard file formats, enabling you to read data from public data repositories, such as ones hosted by USGS, NASA, NCAR/UCAR, and IRIS, to name a few. You can also acquire data directly from the web, from hardware and from sensors, including from your mobile phone and the IoT.


MATLAB Compatible Data and Tools

Many data centers host data using common data formats that MATLAB supports. This means you can bring the data directly into MATLAB for analysis and visualization. A subset of available data and tools provided by geoscience-related data facilities include:

  • Seismology: IRIS/DMC: IRIS’ Data Management Center provides irisfetch.m, a tool that lets MATLAB users access the seismology data that IRIS warehouses.
  • Radar Data at NCAR/UCAR – National Center for Atmospheric Research: MATLAB can easily read radar and lidar data (CfRadial) because it’s formatted as HDF5 and netCDF. EMERALD - The MATLAB Environment for Radar And Lidar Data, developed by scientists at NCAR/UCAR – includes a GUI for easy interaction and an API for tasks requiring programming.
  • ADCP Data Processing Toolbox from USGS: VMT (Velocity Mapping Toolbox), developed by USGS, enables you to process and visualize ADCP (acoustic doppler current profiler) data from rivers and other waterways to understand and explore fluid motion, acoustic backscatter, and bathymetry.
  • Earth and Environmental Data at DataONE: DataONE houses data and links to other repositories of data related to Earth and the environment. DataONE developed a MATLAB script for helping you work with data. It also enables you to track the provenance of the data to the MATLAB code that processed the data.
  • SEA-MAT – MATLAB Tools for Oceanographers: Originally collated by Woods Hole Science Center/USGS, SEA-MAT provides tools that help you use MATLAB to analyze oceanography data. The tools are written by MATLAB users in the oceanography community. Explore tools, add your own, and search for more tools for working with ocean data on GitHub and File Exchange.
  • Additional Formats: There are many more tools for reading data into MATLAB, such as code for reading Teledyne RDI files, processed ADCP files, and Biosonics DTX digital echosounder data. Search Google for the data file type and MATLAB to find reading, writing, and processing code.