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Conventions and standards adopted by a research community are ...     Climate and Forecast Conventions

The CF conventions are specifically designed to facilitate the processing and sharing of netCDF files. They are based on the older   COARDS conventions, which they extend. The first version v1.0 of the CF Conventions was released in 2003, the current version now (2021) is v1.8. Each new version tries, as much as possible, to be compatible with older versions. The first versions, as the name implied were focusing on climate and forecast data, since the broaden their scope to earth data in general, including observational data.

CF is now widely adopted as the main standard both in the production of netCDF related code and for the publication of netCDF data. As the initial focus was to allow interoperability of netCDF based software packages, the conventions main aim is to define clearly each variable and the spatial and temporal properties of the data.

As a consequence, applying these Conventions to your netCDF files makes them more re-usable.  Most software used in Claimte science will know how to open and process correctly the files.  The metadata required will describe clearly the characteristic of the data in the files, making it easier, for a potential user, to identify correctly the variables and compare them to similar data.

CF Conventions focus mostly on the variable and dimensions description, the full Conventions document is quite long but in most cases you use the same attributes. This CMS Blog provides and example on how to apply them to your data covering the attributes most commonly required.

Important elements of the Conventions are:

  • the UDUNITS packages for units standards
  • the standard_name whose scope is to provide a common terminology for variables names. For example, every variable with the standard_name air_temperature can be defined as "Air temperature is the bulk temperature of the air, not the surface (skin) temperature." with K or equivalent units, regardless of the way the actual variable name in the file. Standard_name is a very useful attribute but should be applied with attention. It is better to leave it out if a suitable one is not available.

 There are various tools available to help you check your files against a version of the CF Conventions. We covered some in this wiki page: CF checker  

Attribute Convention for Data Discovery  

Other conventions specific to sub-domains

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