Tips for working with NSIDC’s most popular sea ice concentration data

NSIDC’s sea ice concentration data are used by scientists and students, journalists and advisers. The range of possible uses for the data is as varied as the data users themselves. The biggest hurdle encountered by many users is simply learning how to initially read and display the data. Here are some tips on how to get started.

The “Sea Ice Concentrations from Nimbus-7 SMMR and DMSP SSM/I-SSMIS Passive Microwave Data” are distributed in gridded binary format. NSIDC provides IDL routines to ingest and read the data. These tools can be found at the Polar Stereographic Tools Web page.

However, if you are unfamiliar with IDL, there are other options that you can use. First of all, you may be interested in downloading the data via the Polaris search and order interface. This Web tool allows you to download the data in GeoTIFF or NetCDF formats. It also allows you to make spatial and temporal constraints on the data as well as change the output projection.

If you are interested in importing the data to ArcGIS, you can either use the GeoTIFF files downloaded from Polaris (see above), or you can perform a few steps to import the native binary files. In order to do this, you will need to rename the files, create a header file for the data, and use ArcToolbox to transform the files to a different format. Instructions detailing how to do this can be found in this Online Support article.