For a rectangular area of about 10 by 10 km, I have to generate "displacement vectors" with a 1 meter resolution (i.e. a delta-x and delta-y value for every cell of 1 by 1 meter). I will end up with 100 million tuples (x, y, delta_x, delta_y). In a plain text file, this would look like:

x       y       delta_x  delta_y
------  ------  -------  -------
228682  184554  0.429    1.221  
228682  184555  0.428    1.222  
228682  184556  0.428    1.223  
228682  184557  0.427    1.224  
228682  184558  0.427    1.225  
229526  184822  -0.084   0.593  
229526  184823  0.185    0.002  
229526  184824  0.185    0.001  
229526  184825  0.186    -0.001 
229526  184826  0.186    -0.002 

I was wondering if there is an efficient way to store these values as a dataset of type raster/coverage...? The x, y would be the pixel or cell position, and the delta_x and delta_y would be the values. Is HDF5 the way to go? I have no experience using HDF5.

I need to store the values in Python and retrieve them in Python in an efficient way (more efficient then first reading 100 million tuples from a text file, then storing them in a R-Tree index and finally using the index doing intersects).

I am looking for some guidance, tips, best practices, small examples or use cases where this has been done before.


Your first chance at reducing the size of the data is to remove the need to explicitly store x and y. Since your data is regularly gridded you can implicitly store these values as the grid indices.

This way you can generate a 3 dimensional numpy array with the shape (2, n_x, n_y).

delta_x and delta_y for the location x = 20 and y = 10 would then be stored at array(:, 10, 20).

There are a number of options to store such an array on disk - numpy.savez and h5py probably being the most popular ones.

import numpy as np
import h5py

test_data = np.arange(200000000).reshape(2, 10000, 10000).astype(np.float32)

np.savez("/data/test_tmp/numpy.npz", test_data)
np.savez_compressed("/data/test_tmp/numpy_compressed.npz", test_data)

with h5py.File("/data/test_tmp/h5py.h5", "w") as hdf5:
    hdf5.create_dataset("innit", data=test_data, compression="gzip")
>ls -al /data/test_tmp/

-rw-rw-r--  1 dl dl  77886268 Jan 13 17:31 h5py.h5
-rw-rw-r--  1 dl dl  72289983 Jan 13 17:31 numpy_compressed.npz
-rw-rw-r--  1 dl dl 800000212 Jan 13 17:30 numpy.npz

On this test dataset you can see the effects of compression. The uncompressed array numpy.npz has a size of ~800 Mb while both compressed arrays are around a 10th of the size at ~75 Mb.

I prefer numpy.savez for its ease of use but h5py definitely gives you a lot more options in regards of compression and multiple datasets in a container.

  • your solution seems perfect, and thank you for the elaborate answer. In the mean time, I was working on a similar solution using Numpy and storing the values in a GeoTiff having 2 bands, one for delta_x and one for delta_y. The resulting uncompressed GeoTiff is about 10 % the size of my text version (storing delta's in centimeters, hence integers, not floats). I still have to do the reading part. What's your opinion regarding my solution compared to yours? In particular with regard to reading the values. – theej Jan 13 '16 at 18:47
  • Your solution basically achieves the same results, although I would say with unnecessary complication (you don't really need GDAL since you don't really need the spatial information for storage - or do you?) Can you provide a subset? Then we would be able to do a performance comparison. – Kersten Jan 13 '16 at 20:46
  • Your solution is marked as the answer because it was very to the point and more generic than what I am doing. However, I will go with GeoTiff solution. It's working now and fast. Moreover, this was not mentioned but a colleague of mine needs to use the dataset in Smallworld coding in Magic. I have no idea what his capabilities are, but my guess is that consulting the value of a GeoTiff is a safer option than your output that he might not be able to read. But thanks a bunch for the help! – theej Jan 13 '16 at 21:27

The alternative answer using a GeoTiff for storing the delta_x and delta_y values uses Numpy and GDAL. Here is the outline for the solution.

The implementation for creating the GeoTiff uses the code in this recipe:


The delta_x and delta_y values are stored in separate bands. I chose to store the displacements in centimeters to reduce the size of the GeoTiff (signed 16-bit integers).

I read the values from the GeoTiff in Python using the code in this recipe:


The GeoTiff solution is less generic having a dependency on GDAL, but this comes in handy if the output need to be read in other GIS.

  • +1, this is indeed a nice solution if someone needs to load the data into a GIS or related geospatial software. – Kersten Jan 13 '16 at 22:02

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