Devoted to open data and open source in science and education.

View All Tutorials

This tutorial is a part of a series!

Click below to view all lessons in the series!


R programming (52)
Hierarchical Data Formats (HDF5) (15)
Spatial Data & GIS (22)
LiDAR (10)
Raster Data (14)
Remote Sensing (24)
Data Visualization (4)
Hyperspectral Remote Sensing (17)
Time Series (15)
Phenology (7)
Vector Data (6)
Metadata (1)
Git & GitHub (7)
(1) (1) (13)

Tutorial by R Package

dplyr (7)
ggplot2 (16)
h5py (2)
lubridate (time series) (6)
maps (1)
maptools (1)
plyr (2)
raster (26)
rasterVis (raster time series) (3)
rgdal (GIS) (24)
rgeos (2)
rhdf5 (11)
sp (5)
scales (4)
gridExtra (4)
ggtheme (0)
grid (2)
reshape2 (3)
plotly (5)

View ALL Tutorial Series

Twitter Youtube Github


R Bloggers


In this tutorial, we will learn how to read NEON lidar raster GeoTIFFS (e.g., CHM, slope aspect) into Python numpy arrays with gdal and create a classified raster object.


After completing this tutorial, you will be able to:

  • Read NEON ldiar raster GeoTIFFS (e.g., CHM, slope aspect) into Python numpy arrays with gdal.
  • Create a classified raster object.

Install Python Packages

  • numpy
  • gdal
  • matplotlib

Download Data

To complete this tutorial, you will need data available from the NEON 2017 Data Institute teaching data set available for download.

Caution: This data set includes all the data for the 2017 Data Institute, including hyperspectral and lidar data sets and is therefore a large file (12 GB). Ensure that you have sufficient space on your hard drive before you begin the download. If not, download to an external hard drive and make sure to correct for the change in file path when working through the tutorial.ß

Download NEON Teaching Data Subset: Data Institute 2017 Data Set

The LiDAR and imagery data used to create this raster teaching data subset were collected over the National Ecological Observatory Networks field sites and processed at NEON headquarters. The entire dataset can be accessed by request from the NEON Airborne Data Request Page on the NEON website.

Download the neon_aop_lidar_raster_functions Module

First, let’s import the required packages and set our plot display to be in line.

import numpy as np
import gdal
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
%matplotlib inline
import warnings

Open a Geotif with GDAL

Let’s look at the SERC Canopy Height Model (CHM) to start. We can open and read this in Python using the gdal.Open function.

chm_filename = '../data/SERC/lidar/2016_SERC_1_367000_4306000_pit_free_CHM.tif'
chm_dataset = gdal.Open(chm_filename)

Read information from GeoTIFF Tags

The GeoTIFF file format comes with associated metadata containing information about the location and coordinate system/projection. Once we have read in the dataset, we can access this information with the following commands.

#Display the dataset dimensions, number of bands, driver, and geotransform 
cols = chm_dataset.RasterXSize; print('# of columns:',cols)
rows = chm_dataset.RasterYSize; print('# of rows:',rows)
print('# of bands:',chm_dataset.RasterCount)
# of columns: 1000
# of rows: 1000
# of bands: 1
driver: GeoTIFF


We can use GetProjection to see information about the coordinate system and EPSG code.

projection: PROJCS["WGS 84 / UTM zone 18N",GEOGCS["WGS 84",DATUM["WGS_1984",SPHEROID["WGS 84",6378137,298.257223563,AUTHORITY["EPSG","7030"]],AUTHORITY["EPSG","6326"]],PRIMEM["Greenwich",0],UNIT["degree",0.0174532925199433],AUTHORITY["EPSG","4326"]],PROJECTION["Transverse_Mercator"],PARAMETER["latitude_of_origin",0],PARAMETER["central_meridian",-75],PARAMETER["scale_factor",0.9996],PARAMETER["false_easting",500000],PARAMETER["false_northing",0],UNIT["metre",1,AUTHORITY["EPSG","9001"]],AUTHORITY["EPSG","32618"]]


The geotransform contains information about the origin (upper-left corner) of the raster, the pixel size, and the rotation angle of the data. All NEON data in the latest format have zero rotation. In this example, the values correspond to:

geotransform: (367000.0, 1.0, 0.0, 4307000.0, 0.0, -1.0)

In this case, the geotransform values correspond to:

  1. Left-Most X Coordinate = 367000.0
  2. W-E Pixel Resolution = 1.0
  3. Rotation (0 if Image is North-Up) = 0.0
  4. Upper Y Coordinate = 4307000.0
  5. Rotation (0 if Image is North-Up) = 0.0
  6. N-S Pixel Resolution = -1.0

We can convert this information into a spatial extent (xMin, xMax, yMin, yMax) by combining information about the origin, number of columns & rows, and pixel size, as follows.

chm_mapinfo = chm_dataset.GetGeoTransform()
xMin = chm_mapinfo[0]
yMax = chm_mapinfo[3]

xMax = xMin + chm_dataset.RasterXSize/chm_mapinfo[1] #divide by pixel width 
yMin = yMax + chm_dataset.RasterYSize/chm_mapinfo[5] #divide by pixel height (note sign +/-)
chm_ext = (xMin,xMax,yMin,yMax)
print('chm raster extent:',chm_ext)
chm raster extent: (367000.0, 368000.0, 4306000.0, 4307000.0)


We can read in a single raster band with GetRasterBand and access information about this raster band such as the No Data Value, Scale Factor, and Statitiscs as follows.

chm_raster = chm_dataset.GetRasterBand(1)
noDataVal = chm_raster.GetNoDataValue(); print('no data value:',noDataVal)
scaleFactor = chm_raster.GetScale(); print('scale factor:',scaleFactor)
chm_stats = chm_raster.GetStatistics(True,True)
print('SERC CHM Statistics: Minimum=%.2f, Maximum=%.2f, Mean=%.3f, StDev=%.3f' % 
      (chm_stats[0], chm_stats[1], chm_stats[2], chm_stats[3]))
no data value: -9999.0
scale factor: 1.0
SERC CHM Statistics: Minimum=0.00, Maximum=40.67, Mean=7.617, StDev=10.785


Finally we can convert the raster to an array using the ReadAsArray command. Use the extension astype(np.float) to ensure the array contains floating-point numbers. Once we generate the array, we want to set No Data Values to NaN, and apply the scale factor:

chm_array = chm_dataset.GetRasterBand(1).ReadAsArray(0,0,cols,rows).astype(np.float)
chm_array[chm_array==int(noDataVal)]=np.nan #Assign CHM No Data Values to NaN
print('SERC CHM Array:\n',chm_array) #display array values
 [[ 22.60000038  24.29999924  26.92000008 ...,  15.81999969  16.68000031
 [ 23.18000031  25.22999954  25.62000084 ...,  13.86999989  12.84000015
 [ 25.19000053  26.          26.29000092 ...,  12.38000011  12.10999966
 [  0.           0.           0.         ...,  25.53000069  25.12000084
 [  0.           0.           0.         ...,  26.57999992  26.14999962
 [  0.           0.           0.         ...,  26.12999916  25.85000038

Array Statistics

To get a better idea of the dataset, print some basic statistics.

# Display statistics (min, max, mean); numpy.nanmin calculates the minimum without the NaN values.
print('SERC CHM Array Statistics:')

# Calculate the % of pixels that are NaN and non-zero:
pct_nan = np.count_nonzero(np.isnan(chm_array))/(rows*cols)
print('% NaN:',round(pct_nan*100,2))
print('% non-zero:',round(100*np.count_nonzero(chm_array)/(rows*cols),2))
SERC CHM Array Statistics:
min: 0.0
max: 41.31
mean: 7.6
% NaN: 0.0
% non-zero: 39.5
# Define the plot_band_array function from Day 1
def plot_band_array(band_array,refl_extent,colorlimit,ax=plt.gca(),title='',cbar ='on',cmap_title='',colormap='spectral'):
    plot = plt.imshow(band_array,extent=refl_extent,clim=colorlimit); 
    if cbar == 'on':
        cbar = plt.colorbar(plot,aspect=40); plt.set_cmap(colormap); 
    plt.title(title); ax = plt.gca(); 
    ax.ticklabel_format(useOffset=False, style='plain'); #do not use scientific notation #
    rotatexlabels = plt.setp(ax.get_xticklabels(),rotation=90); #rotate x tick labels 90 degrees
plot_band_array(chm_array,chm_ext,(0,80),title='SERC Canopy Height',cmap_title='Canopy Height, m')

Plot Histogram of Data

import copy
chm_nonan_array = copy.copy(chm_array)
chm_nonan_array = chm_nonan_array[~np.isnan(chm_array)]
plt.title('Distribution of SERC Canopy Height')
plt.xlabel('Tree Height (m)'); plt.ylabel('Relative Frequency')
<matplotlib.text.Text at 0x95a12e8>

We can see that most of the values are zero. In SERC, many of the zero CHM values correspond to bodies of water as well as regions of land without trees. Let’s look at a histogram and plot the data without zero values.

chm_nonzero_array = copy.copy(chm_array)
chm_nonzero_nonan_array = chm_nonzero_array[~np.isnan(chm_nonzero_array)]
# Use weighting to plot relative frequency

# plt.hist(chm_nonzero_nonan_array.flatten(),50) 
plt.title('Distribution of SERC Non-Zero Canopy Height')
plt.xlabel('Tree Height (m)'); plt.ylabel('Relative Frequency')
# plt.xlim(0,25); plt.ylim(0,4000000)

min: 2.0 m
max: 41.31 m
mean: 19.23 m

From the histogram we can see that the majority of the trees are < 45m. We can replot the CHM array, this time adjusting the color bar to better visualize the variation in canopy height. We will plot the non-zero array so that CHM=0 appears white.

plot_band_array(chm_array,chm_ext,(0,45),title='SERC Canopy Height',cmap_title='Canopy Height, m',colormap='BuGn')

Read in a GeoTIFF raster and associated metadata

Now that we have a basic understanding of how GDAL reads in a GeoTIFF file, we can write a function to read in a NEON geotif, convert it to a numpy array, and store the associated metadata in a Python dictionary in order to more efficiently carry out further analysis.

# reads in the first band of geotif file and returns an array and associated 
# metadata dictionary

from osgeo import gdal
import numpy as np

def raster2array(geotif_file):
    metadata = {}
    dataset = gdal.Open(geotif_file)
    metadata['array_rows'] = dataset.RasterYSize
    metadata['array_cols'] = dataset.RasterXSize
    metadata['bands'] = dataset.RasterCount
    metadata['driver'] = dataset.GetDriver().LongName
    metadata['projection'] = dataset.GetProjection()
    metadata['geotransform'] = dataset.GetGeoTransform()
    mapinfo = dataset.GetGeoTransform()
    metadata['pixelWidth'] = mapinfo[1]
    metadata['pixelHeight'] = mapinfo[5]

    metadata['ext_dict'] = {}
    metadata['ext_dict']['xMin'] = mapinfo[0]
    metadata['ext_dict']['xMax'] = mapinfo[0] + dataset.RasterXSize/mapinfo[1]
    metadata['ext_dict']['yMin'] = mapinfo[3] + dataset.RasterYSize/mapinfo[5]
    metadata['ext_dict']['yMax'] = mapinfo[3]
    metadata['extent'] = (metadata['ext_dict']['xMin'],metadata['ext_dict']['xMax'],
    if metadata['bands'] == 1:
        raster = dataset.GetRasterBand(1)
        metadata['noDataValue'] = raster.GetNoDataValue()
        metadata['scaleFactor'] = raster.GetScale()
        # band statistics
        metadata['bandstats'] = {} #make a nested dictionary to store band stats in same 
        stats = raster.GetStatistics(True,True)
        metadata['bandstats']['min'] = round(stats[0],2)
        metadata['bandstats']['max'] = round(stats[1],2)
        metadata['bandstats']['mean'] = round(stats[2],2)
        metadata['bandstats']['stdev'] = round(stats[3],2)
        array = dataset.GetRasterBand(1).ReadAsArray(0,0,metadata['array_cols'],metadata['array_rows']).astype(np.float)
        array = array/metadata['scaleFactor']
        return array, metadata
    elif metadata['bands'] > 1:
        print('More than one band ... need to modify function for case of multiple bands')
SERC_chm_array, SERC_chm_metadata = raster2array('../data/SERC/lidar/SERC_CHM.tif')

print('SERC CHM Array:\n',SERC_chm_array)

#print metadata in alphabetical order
for item in sorted(SERC_chm_metadata):
    print(item + ':', SERC_chm_metadata[item])
 [[ nan  nan  nan ...,  nan  nan  nan]
 [ nan  nan  nan ...,  nan  nan  nan]
 [ nan  nan  nan ...,  nan  nan  nan]
 [ nan  nan  nan ...,  nan  nan  nan]
 [ nan  nan  nan ...,  nan  nan  nan]
 [ nan  nan  nan ...,  nan  nan  nan]]
array_cols: 11197
array_rows: 14997
bands: 1
bandstats: {'stdev': 12.54, 'mean': 10.66, 'max': 48.45, 'min': 0.0}
driver: GeoTIFF
ext_dict: {'yMin': 4298479.0, 'xMin': 358816.0, 'xMax': 370013.0, 'yMax': 4313476.0}
extent: (358816.0, 370013.0, 4298479.0, 4313476.0)
geotransform: (358816.0, 1.0, 0.0, 4313476.0, 0.0, -1.0)
noDataValue: -9999.0
pixelHeight: -1.0
pixelWidth: 1.0
projection: PROJCS["WGS 84 / UTM zone 18N",GEOGCS["WGS 84",DATUM["WGS_1984",SPHEROID["WGS 84",6378137,298.257223563,AUTHORITY["EPSG","7030"]],AUTHORITY["EPSG","6326"]],PRIMEM["Greenwich",0],UNIT["degree",0.0174532925199433],AUTHORITY["EPSG","4326"]],PROJECTION["Transverse_Mercator"],PARAMETER["latitude_of_origin",0],PARAMETER["central_meridian",-75],PARAMETER["scale_factor",0.9996],PARAMETER["false_easting",500000],PARAMETER["false_northing",0],UNIT["metre",1,AUTHORITY["EPSG","9001"]],AUTHORITY["EPSG","32618"]]
scaleFactor: 1.0

Threshold Based Raster Classification

Next, we will create a classified raster object. To do this, we will use the se the numpy.where function to create a new raster based off boolean classifications. Let’s classify the canopy height into four groups:

  • Class 1: CHM = 0 m
  • Class 2: 0m < CHM <= 20m
  • Class 3: 20m < CHM <= 40m
  • Class 4: CHM > 40m
chm_reclass = copy.copy(chm_array)
chm_reclass[np.where(chm_array==0)] = 1 # CHM = 0 : Class 1
chm_reclass[np.where((chm_array>0) & (chm_array<=20))] = 2 # 0m < CHM <= 20m - Class 2
chm_reclass[np.where((chm_array>20) & (chm_array<=40))] = 3 # 20m < CHM < 40m - Class 3
chm_reclass[np.where(chm_array>40)] = 4 # CHM > 40m - Class 4


import matplotlib.colors as colors
plt.figure(); #ax = plt.subplots()
cmapCHM = colors.ListedColormap(['lightblue','yellow','green','red'])
plt.title('SERC CHM Classification')
ax=plt.gca(); ax.ticklabel_format(useOffset=False, style='plain') #do not use scientific notation 
rotatexlabels = plt.setp(ax.get_xticklabels(),rotation=90) #rotate x tick labels 90 degrees
# forceAspect(ax,aspect=1) # ax.set_aspect('auto')

# Create custom legend to label the four canopy height classes:
import matplotlib.patches as mpatches
class1_box = mpatches.Patch(color='lightblue', label='CHM = 0m')
class2_box = mpatches.Patch(color='yellow', label='0m < CHM < 20m')
class3_box = mpatches.Patch(color='green', label='20m < CHM < 40m')
class4_box = mpatches.Patch(color='red', label='CHM > 40m')

          handlelength=0.7,bbox_to_anchor=(1.05, 0.4),loc='lower left',borderaxespad=0.)
Min: 1.0
Max: 4.0
Mean: 1.59

<matplotlib.legend.Legend at 0xc877240>

Challenge: Document Your Workflow

  1. Look at the code that you created for this tutorials. Now imagine yourself months in the future. Comment your script (Markdown sections and code comments) so that your methods and process is clear and reproducible for yourself or others to follow in the future.
  2. In commenting your script, synthesize and interpret the outputs. Do they tell you anything about the vegetation structure at the field site?

Challenge: Try out other Classifications

Create the following threshold classified outputs:

  1. A raster where NDVI values are classified into the following categories:
    • Low greenness: NDVI < 0.3
    • Medium greenness: 0.3 < NDVI < 0.6
    • High greenness: NDVI > 0.6
  2. A raster where aspect is classified into North and South facing slopes.

Be sure to document your workflow as you go using a combination of Jupyter Markdown cells and code comments. When you are finished, explore your outputs to HTML by selecting File > Download As > HTML (.html).

Data Institute Participants: Save the file as LastName_Tues_classifyThreshold.html. Add this to the Tuesday materials directory in the DI17-NEON-participants GitHub repo. Remember to push from your local repo to your fork, and then complete the Pull Request to the central repository.

Aspect Raster Classification on TEAK Dataset (California)

Next, we will create a classified raster object based on slope using the TEAK dataset. This time, our classifications will be:

  • North Facing Slopes: 0-45 & 315-360 degrees ; class=1
  • South Facing Slopes: 135-225 degrees ; class=2
  • East & West Facing Slopes: 45-135 & 225-315 degrees ; unclassified
Reclassification of aspect (azimuth) values: North, 315-45 degrees; East, 45-135 degrees; South, 135-225 degrees; West, 225-315 degrees. Source: Boz et al. 2015

Further Reading: There are a range of applications for aspect classificaiton. Boz et al. (2015) provide an example of classifying LiDAR aspect data to determine suitability of roofs for PV (photovoltaic) systems. Can you think of any other applications where aspect classification might be useful?

Data Tip: You can calculate aspect in Python from a digital elevation (or surface) model using the pyDEM package from the CU-Boulder Earth Lab.

Import Data

First, we can import the TEAK aspect raster GeoTIFF and convert it to an array using the raster2array function.

TEAK_aspect_tif = '../data/TEAK/lidar/2013_TEAK_1_326000_4103000_DTM_aspect.tif'
TEAK_asp_array, TEAK_asp_metadata = raster2array(TEAK_aspect_tif)

#print metadata in alphabetical order
for item in sorted(TEAK_asp_metadata):
    print(item + ':', TEAK_asp_metadata[item])

plot_band_array(TEAK_asp_array,TEAK_asp_metadata['extent'],(0,360),title='TEAK Aspect',cmap_title='Aspect, deg')
array_cols: 1000
array_rows: 1000
bands: 1
bandstats: {'stdev': 66.57, 'mean': 115.59, 'max': 359.99, 'min': 0.0}
driver: GeoTIFF
ext_dict: {'yMin': 4103000.0, 'xMin': 326000.0, 'xMax': 327000.0, 'yMax': 4104000.0}
extent: (326000.0, 327000.0, 4103000.0, 4104000.0)
geotransform: (326000.0, 1.0, 0.0, 4104000.0, 0.0, -1.0)
noDataValue: -9999.0
pixelHeight: -1.0
pixelWidth: 1.0
projection: PROJCS["WGS 84 / UTM zone 11N",GEOGCS["WGS 84",DATUM["WGS_1984",SPHEROID["WGS 84",6378137,298.257223563,AUTHORITY["EPSG","7030"]],AUTHORITY["EPSG","6326"]],PRIMEM["Greenwich",0],UNIT["degree",0.0174532925199433],AUTHORITY["EPSG","4326"]],PROJECTION["Transverse_Mercator"],PARAMETER["latitude_of_origin",0],PARAMETER["central_meridian",-117],PARAMETER["scale_factor",0.9996],PARAMETER["false_easting",500000],PARAMETER["false_northing",0],UNIT["metre",1,AUTHORITY["EPSG","9001"]],AUTHORITY["EPSG","32611"]]
scaleFactor: 1.0

aspect_array = copy.copy(TEAK_asp_array)
asp_reclass = copy.copy(aspect_array)
asp_reclass[np.where(((aspect_array>=0) & (aspect_array<=45)) | (aspect_array>=315))] = 1 #North - Class 1
asp_reclass[np.where((aspect_array>=135) & (aspect_array<=225))] = 2 #South - Class 2
asp_reclass[np.where(((aspect_array>45) & (aspect_array<135)) | ((aspect_array>225) & (aspect_array<315)))] = np.nan #W & E - Unclassified


# Scale plot 
def forceAspect(ax,aspect=1):
    im = ax.get_images()
    extent =  im[0].get_extent()

# plot_band_array(aspect_reclassified,asp_ext,'North and South Facing Slopes \n TEAK')
from matplotlib import colors
fig, ax = plt.subplots()
cmapNS = colors.ListedColormap(['blue','red'])
plt.title('TEAK \n N and S Facing Slopes')
ax=plt.gca(); ax.ticklabel_format(useOffset=False, style='plain') #do not use scientific notation 
rotatexlabels = plt.setp(ax.get_xticklabels(),rotation=90) #rotate x tick labels 90 degrees
ax = plt.gca(); forceAspect(ax,aspect=1)

# Create custom legend to label N & S
import matplotlib.patches as mpatches
blue_box = mpatches.Patch(color='blue', label='North')
red_box = mpatches.Patch(color='red', label='South')
ax.legend(handles=[blue_box,red_box],handlelength=0.7,bbox_to_anchor=(1.05, 0.45), 
          loc='lower left', borderaxespad=0.)
Min: 1.0
Max: 2.0
Mean: 1.7

<matplotlib.legend.Legend at 0xc02c748>

Challenge: Add docstrings

Clear code is important – with this in mind add docstrings to the module.

  1. Include a description of the module and a list of the functions it contains.
  2. Include the following information for each function. (Refer to the Python Developer’s Guide on documentstrings for more information.) Use triple quotes to start and end a doc string ( “”” docstring here “””)
  • description of the function
  • parameters (inputs)
  • returns (outputs)
  • See also ( list & briefly describe related functions)
  • Notes
  • Examples (how to execute the function.
  1. Save the updated commented module to a python .py file from Jupyter using the magic command: %%writefile Alternatively, you can copy it into a text editor or Spyder (a Python IDE) and save it as a .py file.
  2. Once saved and re-loaded, use the help(function) or function? to view the docstrings you wrote.

Get Lesson Code

(some browsers may require you to right click.)