I have downloaded MODIS data (from ladsweb.modaps.eosdis.nasa.gov) which I would like to view in ArcMap 10.4. It's MOD14 thermal anomalies data.

Currently I can place the data on a map, but it appears to be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (which is not the correct placement of my data). This suggested to me that the coordinate system or projection was incorrect. However, I'm not able to determine what the geographic coordinate system should be.

The spatial extent should cover Kansas: enter image description here

I've tried several things:

  • I went back to the NASA page where I downloaded the data. It does not document the coordinate system being used.
  • I searched for coordinate systems containing the word "MODIS" in ArcMap. I also used the search tool to look for other MODIS-related subjects in Esri's help.
  • I googled my problem. Many pages suggest using R scripts or third-party tools to transform the data prior to being used in ArcMap. I'm not sure what this is about or why it's necessary - it seems like a lot just to import some data.
  • I recently went through several of ESRI's online training modules about using geographic coordinate systems and projects, but didn't find anything helpful.

Do I really need a third-party tool or script to use MODIS data in ArcMap? If not, what do I need to do to work with MODIS in ArcMap?

  • 1
    Please look at the layer's properties and see what the xy extent is and add it to your question.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 19:17
  • 1
    Also specifying exactly which MODIS-based product you're using may be helpful.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 19:22
  • @mkennedy Thanks for the recommendations. I've added both pieces of info. Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 20:19

2 Answers 2


It is likely that your data is in a MODIS Sinusoidal projection which uses a spherical projection ellipsoid (satellite based projection). Commonly one uses the MRT or MRTSwath software to reproject this data but there have been proposed methods to do this in other software, including ArcGIS, with varying success. Personally, I just call MRT/MRTSwath from an R script.

The "prj" format (ESRI compliant) projection definition for MODIS Sinusoidal is:


You could try to define the projection and then reproject to a geographic projection and keep your fingers crossed that ESRI has added a relevant transformation. Given how common MODIS data is, I cannot believe that ESRI has not developed a simple, documented workflow for this issue.

There are instructions in the MOD14: MODIS/Terra Thermal Anomalies users manual (pp 27, 5.2.6 Level 3 Tile Navigation) for forward and inverse mapping of the Sinusoidal projection, with example Matlab code. It is at least a place to start.

  • The extent shows that the data isn't georeferenced. So OP would have to georeference it first to Sinusoidal.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 1:40
  • Sometimes ArcGIS makes a "best guess" at the projection and assigns it on the fly. When this happens the raster information on units, cell size, extent, etc.. are not reliable or outright nonsensical. Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 1:49
  • Yeah, no. Add xy data will use the data frame's coordinate system by default, but rasters? They aren't going to guess. If the information reported is wrong relative to what's in a raster header or whatever, there's likely a bug. Yes, bugs occur. Esri employee >20 years. This doesn't change the fact that just assigning Sinusoidal to this data isn't going to work. It also has to be georeferenced.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 16:15

ESRI Online has a MODIS service. Simply go to FILE- ARCGIS Online- search on MODIS Terra or MODIS Aqua - ADD.

There are a lot of records (too many to display at once for my client anyway) so you will need to build tools to replicate the MODIS Worldview temporal functionality OR select individual records and convert to layers as needed.

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