Data Set ID:

Nimbus High Resolution Infrared Radiometer Digital Swath Data L1, HDF5, Version 1

The Nimbus High Resolution Infrared Radiometer Digital Swath Data L1, HDF data set (NmHRIR1H) consists of High Resolution Infrared Radiometer (HRIR) brightness temperatures obtained by the Nimbus 1, Nimbus 2, and Nimbus 3 satellites during 1964, 1966, and 1969. A correction has been applied to minimize seemingly random alignment errors that caused clouds edges and land features to appear jagged in the original 1960s data.

This is the most recent version of these data.

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Data Format(s):
  • HDF
Spatial Coverage:
N: 90, 
S: -90, 
E: 180, 
W: -180
Platform(s):Nimbus-1, Nimbus-2, Nimbus-3
Spatial Resolution:
  • 8 km x 8 km
Temporal Coverage:
  • 15 April 1969 to 31 January 1970
  • 16 May 1966 to 22 November 1966
  • 29 August 1964 to 26 September 1964
Temporal Resolution5 minuteMetadata XML:View Metadata Record
Data Contributor(s):David Gallaher, G. Garrett Campbell

Geographic Coverage

Other Access Options

Other Access Options


As a condition of using these data, you must cite the use of this data set using the following citation. For more information, see our Use and Copyright Web page.

Gallaher, D. and G. Campbell. 2013. Nimbus High Resolution Infrared Radiometer Digital Swath Data L1, HDF5, Version 1. [Indicate subset used]. Boulder, Colorado USA. NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center. doi: [Date Accessed].

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Detailed Data Description


Data are provided as HDF5-formatted files. HDF-EOS (Hierarchical Data Format - Earth Observing System) is a self-describing file format based on HDF that was developed specifically for distributing and archiving data collected by NASA EOS satellites. For more information, visit the HDF-EOS Tools and Information Center. Browse images are also available.

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File Naming Convention

This section explains the file naming convention used for NmHRIR1H data files.

Example file name:

Refer to Table 1 for descriptions of the file name variables listed above.

Table 1. NmHRIR1H File Naming Convention
Variable Description
yyyy Year
mm Month
dd Day
hh Hour
mi Minute
ss Second
orb Orbit number
ggg Granule number from each orbit
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File Size

Data files are typically 1 MB to 2 MB.

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Spatial Coverage

Coverage is global. However, due to mission objectives and technological limitations of the time, coverage is more consistent in some areas (for example North America) and absent from others (for example portions of Alaska).

Spatial Resolution

Approximately 8 km at nadir

Projection and Grid Description

Latitudes and longitudes are provided for each pixel.

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Temporal Coverage

Intermittent data are available within the following date ranges:

Satellite Date Range
Table 2: Temporal Coverage by Satellite
Nimbus 1 29 August to 22 September, 1964
Nimbus 2 16 May to 15 November, 1966
Nimbus 3 23 April, 1969 to 20 January, 1970

Temporal Resolution

Each file contains 5 minutes of swath data.

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Parameter or Variable

Table 3 lists the data fields and corresponding attributes stored in NmHRIR1H data files.

Table 3. NmHRIR1H Data Fields
Data Field Description Attributes Value
Flags Bit flags. See Table 4 for descriptions. Key key = bits 0,1: 00=ocean, 01=25% land, 10=50% land, 11=land; bit 2: on=ascending, off=descending; bit 3: on = day, off=night; bit 4 on=bad data, reflection from spacecraft; bit 5=spare; bit 6 on = temperature out of range; bit 7 on = IR filter in optical path (Nimbus 3 only)
HRIR-Temp Brightness temperature (kelvin) from the 3.4 µm to 4.2 µm near-infrared region, as derived in the 1960s. Data values have been shifted spatially to help offset random alignment errors. See Derivation Techniques and Algorithms for details. DOI 10.5067/NIMBUS/NmHRIR1H
ESDT NmHRIR1H (data set short name)
long_ESDT Nimbus High Resolution Infrared Radiometer
Digital Swath Data Level 1 (data set long name)
units kelvin
Sat Latitude Satellite latitude (at nadir) when scan line was acquired units degrees
Sat Longitude Satellite longitude (at nadir) when scan line was acquired units degrees
cosine Sun Zenith Cosine sun zenith angle from satellite nadir units 1
cosine view angle Cosine view angle of observation units 1
latitude Observation latitude units degrees_north
longitude Observation longitude units degrees_east
scan Time millisec Time scan line was acquired (ms since 1970) units millisecond
shift Alignment shift applied to each scan line (pixels) units pixels

Refer to Table 4 for descriptions of the bit flags stored with this data set.

Table 4. Bit Flags Descriptions
Bit(s) Description
0, 1 Ocean/Land Coverage Flag: 00=ocean, 01=25% land, 10=50% land, 11=land
2 Ascending/Descending Half of Orbit: 0=descending; 1=ascending
3 Day/Night Flag: 0=night, 1=day
4 Reflected Light. Flag set to on means bad data due to reflected light from satellite component.
5 Spare. Set to 0.
6 Data Out of Range. Flag set to on means T < 190k or T > 330k.
7 Daytime Observation. Flag set to on means filter is in optical path (Nimbus 3 only). See Error Sources for details.
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Software and Tools

HDF-compatible software packages, such as HDFView and Panoply, can be used to read, extract, and display NmHRIR1H data files.

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Data Acquisition and Processing

Data Acquisition Methods

The HRIR on the Nimbus I, II, and III satellites transformed measured radiation into electrical voltages that were recorded on tape and played back when the satellite came within range of a receiving station. These data were then transmitted to the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), where they were calibrated, converted to temperatures, and archived on 7-track, digital magnetic tapes. In 2009, the contents of these tapes were recovered and written to a binary tape emulation file format (TAP) for preservation. GES DISC, the NASA Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center, archives and distributes these data and maintains historical Nimbus documentation such as instrument user guides and mission reports.

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Derivation Techniques and Algorithms

Processing Steps

In the original HRIR data, cloud edges and land features appear jagged. Closer inspection reveals that adjacent scan lines appear to be shifted relative to each other by plus or minus several pixels in the cross-track direction. These small, random shifts likely reflect some kind of systemic error, due perhaps to repeatedly switching data acquisitions on and off to record only the earthward-facing portion of each scan mirror revolution.

To help minimize this error, reference scan lines were created by smoothing the data with a moving average (n=5). Each unsmoothed scan line was then incrementally shifted in the cross-track direction (maximum of ±10 pixels) and correlated at each step with its smoothed counterpart. Brightness temperatures from the original HRIR data files were then written to the HRIR-Temp data field, offset by the pixel value that yielded the best correlation. Emptied pixels at the ends of scan lines were filled with a value of 3.4028235E+38. Each scan line's shift value is recorded in the shift data field.

Error Sources

Most extant Nimbus 1 and 2 observations were collected at night, however a few daytime orbits have survived. Although the daytime measurements are contaminated by reflected solar radiation, these data have been included for their qualitative and historical value.

Whereas Nimbus I and II operated almost exclusively in nighttime mode, Nimbus III was equipped with an infrared filter that could be inserted into the optical path to acquire daytime reflected solar radiation. However, no flag was set in the data to indicate whether the filter was in or out. Furthermore, a few daytime orbits were collected with no filter in place and contain mixed IR and visible radiation.

In general, daytime orbits appear to correspond to temperatures below 150 K. Bit 7 in the Flags data field is set to on to indicate the PIs' best guess that the filter was in place. Although no calibration exists for the daytime visible data, obvious distinctions between land, cloud, water, and ice surfaces are apparent. However, the visible observations are so scattered in time and space that constructing land surface or cloud maps from these data alone would result in significant sampling errors.

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Quality Assessment

The realignment improves the visual appearance of the data and better represents the shapes of clouds and coastlines. In regions with very little spatial information, for example where the measurements are very noisy or very uniform, the shifts offer little or no improvement.

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Sensor or Instrument Description

The HRIR on Nimbus I and II was a single scanning radiometer that operated in the 3.4 µm to 4.2 µm near-infrared region. The instrument utilized an optical system and a lead selenide photoconductive detector cell to obtain measurements of blackbody temperatures from 210K – 330K. To allow daytime operation, the Nimbus III HRIR was augmented with a band-pass filter that transmitted reflected solar radiation in the 0.7 µm to 1.3 µm region. The change-over from nighttime to daytime operation was accomplished by actuating a relay, either automatically or by ground station command, to insert the filter into the optical path.

For all three missions, the scan mirror was inclined to 45 degrees with a scan rate of 44.7 revolutions per minute. The Instantaneous field of view was 8.8 milliradians and the scan line separation was 8.3 km. The radiometer's instantaneous field of view covered roughly 0.5 degrees, which at an altitude of 1100 km corresponded to a ground resolution of approximately 8 km at nadir.

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References and Related Publications

Contacts and Acknowledgments


David Gallaher
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309-0449 USA

G. Garrett Campbell
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309-0449 USA


The Nimbus Data Rescue Project: Nimbus 1, 2, 3 was supported by NASA contract #NNG08HZ07C as a subtask to NSIDC at the University of Colorado. The PIs also wish to thank Alex Calder, Carl Gallaher, and Anna Schroeder for their contributions to this project.

Document Information


August 2013

No technical references available for this data set.

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