NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) Clearinghouse (ECHO) metadata model was one of several supported formats for submitting metadata to NASA's Earth Science Data and Information Systems (ESDIS) Common Metadata Repository (CMR). Though the ECHO system itself is now retired, the data model specification remains valid.

The Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) distributes Near Real-Time (NRT) active fire data within 3 hours of satellite observation from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua and Terra satellites, and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard S-NPP and NOAA 20 (formally known as JPSS-1).

NASA’s Flooding Days tool produces probabilistic projections of flood frequency in the future that provide information about the full range of possibilities for a given year, including the potential for the occasional—yet inevitable—severe years. The projections leverage the predictability inherent in certain contributions (e.g., tidal amplitude and climate-change-induced sea level rise) and use statistical methods to account for everything else. 

GIS is a collection of computer-based tools for organizing information from a variety of data sources to map and examine changes on Earth. It is designed to capture, store, manage, analyze, and visualize all types of geographical data. GIS allows for the integration and collective analysis of geospatial data from multiple sources, including satellite imagery, GPS recordings, and textual attributes associated with a particular space.

GIS is used in nearly all fields that need to understand the spatial patterns and relationships between different datasets, from land-use planning to emergency response to resource management.

Our vision is to identify and deliver high value Earth Science data in formats compliant and compatible with GIS standards; to ensure data are interactive, interoperable, accessible, and GIS-enabled through primary GIS platforms; and to provide the maximum impact to research, education, and public user communities requiring visualization and spatial analysis.

GIS includes many components:

  • visualizations through interactive maps,
  • data based on the location of features or variables represented,
  • spatial analytic functions that focus on identifying trends and patterns across space and time, and
  • applications that enable tools and services in user-friendly interfaces.
GIS Capture Image

Geospatial data are collected in a variety of ways. It is remotely sensed from instruments aboard airplanes and satellites, created from imagery, or captured in the field.

GIS data contain spatial coordinates to represent where features are located. This is typically done using latitude (y) and longitude (x) coordinates. Multidimensional data can include additional dimensions such as depth, elevation and/or time (z).


NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) archives and distributes 41.86 petabytes (PB) of Earth observation data. This scientific data are often complex and rich with valuable information across multiple dimensions beyond time and space.

Multidimensional data and its associated metadata are stored in scientific data formats optimized for these data types. The most common specialized formats are Network Common Data Form (netCDF), Hierarchical Data Format (HDF), and Gridded Binary (GRIB). Some of the more common cloud-ready formats include Cloud Optimized GeoTIFF (COG), Meta Raster Format (MRF) and Cloud Raster Format (CRF). These scientific data formats share common structures for storing multiple variables, with each variable being a multidimensional array.


GIS Store Image

    GIS tools rely on information stored in data files to determine the correct method of visualization. Often, this relies on the Coordinate Systems (the values used to define a position within a spatial reference to represent location when capturing the data), as well as the Projections (how the values are located and displayed on a map).

    At NASA, our scientific data work well in GIS tools if it follows standards such as the Hierarchical Data Format - Earth Observing System (HDF-EOS) and conventions such as Climate Forecast (CF). These help to ensure the data is formatted in a way for tools to read and write. However, not all of the complex, scientific data can be easily read or understood by libraries such as the Geospatial Data Abstraction Library (GDAL), which tells software what information to parse from data files and how to display them properly. 


    GIS Projections

      Using GIS tools, users can perform a multitude of spatial analyses to determine patterns or trends across space. GIS analysis is used to detect change, extract features, identify relationships, interpolate data, calculate statistics, determine viewsheds, and find optimal routes. GIS tools also help researchers employ machine learning and deep learning models to enhance our use of big data and make more accurate predictions.


      GIS Icons
        GIS Share Image 6

        GIS tools do more than make maps. Although cartography is the foundation for GIS technology, modern technology allows GIS practitioners to create and publish web mapping services, develop powerful user-intuitive applications, create interactive dashboards, and tell effective stories with data alongside narration and media. These methods allow content to be distributed to broad audiences in ways that are easy to digest, explore, utilize as well as integrate with content of their own. Expanding beyond traditional maps allows NASA to increase awareness and exposure within new communities and aids in the understanding and use of science data.

          NASA data are freely and openly available to researchers and the public at large. Earthdata Search provides the means for discovery, filtering, visualization, and access across all of NASA’s Earth science data holdings. This includes more than 33,000 Earth observation data collections. It allows you to search by any topic, collection, or place name.

          ED Search displaying HLS data over Washington area
          Information Icon
          NOTE: NASA data are available in a number of various scientific formats, however, not all data are GIS-ready, and not all files can be easily ingested into GIS systems without error or complications. Visit the Earthdata Forum to interact with NASA subject matter experts who can answer any questions that may arise.

          Interactively browse and download full-resolution, global satellite imagery from over 900 data products with Worldview. Showing the entire Earth as it looks "right now"—or at least as it has looked within the past few hours—Worldview supports time-critical application areas such as wildfire management, air quality measurements, and weather forecasting. Geostationary imagery layers are also now available. These are provided in ten minute increments for the last 30 days. These full disk hemispheric views allow for almost real-time viewing of changes occurring around most of the world. Worldview is supported by NASA’s Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS).

          GIBS provides access global, full-resolution imagery from over 900 satellite imagery products via a variety of standards-based set of web services, such as Web Map Tile Services (WMTS), Tiled Web Map Service (TWMS), Web Map Services (WMS), and Keyhole Markup Language (KML).

          NASA also utilizes Esri’s ArcGIS Online—a collaborative web GIS that allows users to use, create, and share data, layers, maps, applications, and analytic products. NASA’s publicly available content includes web services, dashboards, notebooks and story maps.

          Selected authoritative content is also registered to Esri’s Living Atlas of the World, which now features imagery layers provided by EOSDIS.

          Esri Living Atlas Earthdata
          NASA's EOSDIS provides imagery layers to Esri's Living Atlas of the World in order to make NASA's free and open Earth science data interactive, interoperable, and accessible for research and societal benefit.

          There are a number of GIS tools from which data can be visualized, subsetted, and downloaded in different file formats that are GIS analysis-ready. There are also several Geospatial services (specifically, web map services [WMS], web feature services [WFS], and web coverage services [WCS]) providing access to a variety of GIS-ready datasets.

          Ready to get started?

          A GIS Pathfinder was developed to provide a guided walkthrough of NASA data in GIS tools. This resource provides links to the tools from which data can be visualized, subset, and downloaded in different file formats, as well as a brief tutorial on using the tool to access NASA geospatial web services.

          NASA's Earthdata data discovery and data access webinars span the Earth science disciplines and are designed to help users learn about NASA EOSDIS data, services and tools and show users how to work with these resources.

          Already on Your Way?

          If you are using NASA earth observation data, you may need some help navigating the complexities. NASA's EOSDIS has Tutorials/How-To Guides and Data Recipes to help you navigate the complexities of data processing and transformation to GIS use. If you are interested in receiving expert advice, check out the Earthdata Forum. Within the “Search by Tags” box, under “Services/Usage” select “GIS Tools” from the dropdown. Here, subject matter experts from several of NASA's Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAAC) can discuss general questions, research needs and data applications. Users can query how to access, view and interpret the data.


          Geographic Mark-up Language (GML) is the world standard for the encoding, transport and storage of all forms of geographic information. GML is written in XML for extensibility, which allows for changing or adding features. It can be used both to represent or model geographic objects. 

          GeoTIFF, an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Implementation Standard, is based on the TIFF format and is used as an interchange format for georeferenced raster imagery. While GeoTIFF has widespread use, it is not suitable for storing complex multi-dimensional data structures nor for storing vector data with many attributes or topology information. 

          Giovanni is a NASA Goddard Earth Science Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC) Distributed Active Archive Center (DISC) web application that provides a simple, intuitive way to visualize, analyze, and access Earth science remote sensing data, particularly from satellites, without having to download the data.

          NASA’s Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) metadata and keyword structures are one of NASA’s contributions to the international Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), where the GCMD is known as the CEOS International Directory Network (IDN). The GCMD was deprecated by NASA’s Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) Project in June 2020. While no changes were made to the directory, all legacy GCMD links now redirect to the CEOS IDN.

          NASA EOSDIS Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS) provides full resolution visual representations of NASA Earth science data in a free, open, and interoperable manner. 

          Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) Initiative has repeatedly surveyed the world's estimated 200,000 glaciers. GLIMS uses data collected by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument aboard the Terra satellite and the NASA/USGS Landsat series of satellites, along with historical observations. Each polygon within the Glacier Outlines layer represents the extent of a particular glacier at a specific time, as well as other possible features of the glacier such as the extent of debris cover or the location of supra-glacial and pro-glacial lakes. 

          The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the U.S. version of a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). A GNSS system like GPS has three components: satellites in well-known orbits with synchronized clocks, ground controllers, and a ground segment providing data to users. Using signals from four satellites, a precise location in three-dimensions (within millimeters or less) along with precise time can be determined. By comparing measurements over time, minute elevation and distance changes at a station can be calculated.

          Harmonized Landsat Sentinel-2 (HLS) imagery is produced from data acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and OLI-2 instruments aboard the joint NASA/USGS Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 satellites and the Multi-Spectral Instrument (MSI) aboard the ESA (European Space Agency) Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-2B satellites.

          The Hierarchical Data Format (HDF) is a data model, file format and I/O library designed for storing, exchanging, managing and archiving complex data including scientific, engineering, and remote sensing data. The latest version of HDF, HDF5 allows users to read only the data that they need, not the whole file. Data producers can put images, tables, multidimensional arrays, etc into the same file. 

          The High-level Tool for Interactive Data Extraction (HiTIDE) allows users to subset and download popular Level 2 datasets at NASA’s Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center (PO.DAAC). Users can search across a wide variety of parameters, such as variables, sensors and platforms, and filter the resulting data based on spatial and temporal boundaries of interest to the user.  

          The Hydrology Data Search Tool (HyDRO) is the data search and discovery tool created by NASA’s Global Hydrometeorology Resource Center Distributed Active Archive Center (GHRC DAAC). 

          The Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) algorithm combines information from the GPM satellite constellation to estimate precipitation over the majority of Earth's surface.

          NASA's Earth Science Division (ESD) International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 19115 Geographic Metadata Standard - Implementation Requirement and Guidance document describes the ESD-approved implementation guidelines for required metadata to be included in science data products. 

          A Jupyter Notebook is an open-source web application that allows a user to create and share documents that contain live code, equations, visualizations, and narrative text.

          A web map service (WMS) is an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standard that allows users to remotely access georeferenced map images via hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) requests. NASA's Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC) has made a subset of data products from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) collection available as WMS layers. These layers can be requested and visualized, via HTTP, in an internet browser or in a program that connects to and consumes layers available on a WMS server. 

          Machine learning automates analytical model building. It uses methods from neural networks, statistics, operations research and physics to find hidden insights in data without being explicitly programmed where to look or what to conclude.

          Models are graphical, mathematical (symbolic), physical, or verbal representation or simplified version of a concept, phenomenon, relationship, structure, system, or an aspect of the real world. 

          NASA's Oak Ridge National Laboratory Distributed Active Archive Center (ORNL DAAC) MODIS and VIIRS Subsetting Tools Suite provides several means of subsetting Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) data.  

          The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) Web Map Service (WMS) request defines the geographic layer(s) and area of interest to be processed.