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An Introduction to Atmospheric and Oceanographic Datasets


The purpose of this NCAR Instructional Aid (IA) is to serve as a ``data-primer'' for students and those in other fields of research who are interested in carrying out research involving the analyses of data in the atmospheric and oceanographic sciences. This IA will describe, in very general terms, the datasets most commonly used to study the atmosphere-ocean system and the formats used for archival. The datasets include observations from conventional meteorological sources such as stations and ships, from satellites, and analyzed grids produced at operational weather forecast centers. Detailed descriptions of instruments, methodologies and relative quality is not attempted. Rather, the focus is upon the broad characteristics of the data sources and the datasets. The characteristics not only include the observed variables and their spatial and temporal extent but also common problems, data limitations and sources of error. Datasets available from NCAR are used to illustrate typical archives. A bibliography containing selected references for each chapter provide the interested reader with more details.

Atmospheric and oceanographic data are generally archived at data archiving and distribution centers. Addresses, both conventional and electronic, of several major data centers are provided. A discussion of the Internet includes how to find datasets using the World Wide Web. Finally, a list of commonly used abbreviations and acronyms is provided to familiarize newcomers with atmosphere/ocean jargon.


This work was partially funded by the grant entitled ``Collaboration between Statistical and Atmospheric Sciences on Modeling the Climate System'' [NSF: DSM-9312686] and the Geosystems Database Program within NCAR. The following reviewed or contributed in some way toward this NCAR Instructional Aid: Lawrence Buja, Joey Comeaux, Jim Hurrell, Roy Jenne, Dennis Joseph, Lee Melvin, Chi-Fan Shih, Wilbur Spangler, Ronna Terrell-Bailey, Gregg Walters, David Williamson , Rob Quayle (NCDC) and Bob Zamora (NOAA). Roland Madden and Robert Dattore reviewed the manuscript. Special thanks to Kevin Trenberth for reading the text and suggesting various figures. Jim Petruzzelli (SCD) of NCAR's Digital Information Group and Elizabeth Stephens (CAS/GSP/CGD) did an excellent job of placing the original version of TN-404 into HTML.

Comments, Suggestions, Errors

This IA will be updated on a regular basis. We would like to hear your input concerning the text. Please send your comments to shea@ucar.edu.

Second Printing: October 1994

This TN has been very popular. This version is the second printing. Only minor changes have been made to the original text. These include: typos, the addition of a new dataset, a clarification on how ``raobs'' are tracked, a few new references, new and updated addresses in Appendix A and, finally, some new acronyms.

Third Printing: December 1994

Changes/additions made include: a few paragraphs have been reworded; a description of the new World Ocean Atlas has been added to the Oceanographic Data chapter; an update on the reanalysis projects; the time spans for several data sets have been updated; a few new references; and, finally (as always!) more acronyms.

Fourth Printing: October 1995

More datasets, acronyms, updated information on the NCEP (formerly, NMC) reanalysis effort, additional paragraphs and a number of new/revised Internet addresses have been included.

World Wide Web version: August 1996

This is the most recent version of the Instructional Aid. This is updated yearly. Users of the WWW document should have access to Netscape 2.01 or higher.

Availability of TN-404

Copies of the text may be obtained by contacting the lead author via email ( shea@ucar.edu ). Depending upon funding, there may be a small charge.

An Introduction to Atmospheric and Oceanographic Datasets
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