Input data

OGGM needs various data files to run. To date, we rely exclusively on open-access data that are all downloaded automatically for the user. This page explains the various ways OGGM relies upon to get the the data it needs.

System settings

OGGM implements a bunch of tools to make access to the input data as painless as possible for you, including the automated download of all the required files. This requires that you tell OGGM where to store these data.

Calibration data and testing: the ~/.oggm directory

At the first import, OGGM will create a cached .oggm directory in your $HOME folder. This directory contains all data obtained from the oggm sample data repository. It contains several files needed only for testing, but also some important files needed for calibration and validation. For example:

The ~/.oggm directory should be updated automatically when you update OGGM, but if you encounter any problems simply delete it (it will be re-downloaded automatically at the next import).

All other data: auto-downloads and the ~/.oggm_config file

Unlike runtime parameters (such as physical constants or working directories), the input data is shared accross runs and even accross computers if you want to. Therefore, the paths to previously downloaded data are stored in a configuration file that you’ll find in your $HOME folder: the ~/.oggm_config file.

The file should look like:

dl_cache_dir = /path/to/download_cache
dl_cache_readonly = False
tmp_dir = /path/to/tmp_dir
cru_dir = /path/to/cru_dir
rgi_dir = /path/to/rgi_dir
test_dir = /path/to/test_dir
has_internet = True

Some explanations:

  • dl_cache_dir is a path to a directory where all the files you downloaded will be cached for later use. Most of the users won’t need to explore this folder (it is organized as a list of urls) but you have to make sure to set this path to a folder with sufficient disk space available. This folder can be shared across computers if needed. Once an url is stored in this cache folder, OGGM won’t download it again.
  • dl_cache_readonly indicates if writing is allowed in this folder (this is the default). Setting this to True will prevent any further download in this directory (useful for cluster environments, where this data might be available on a readonly folder).
  • tmp_dir is a path to OGGM’s temporary directory. Most of the topography files used by OGGM are downloaded and cached in a compressed (zip) format. They will be extracted in tmp_dir before use. OGGM will never allow more than 100 .tif files to exist in this directory by deleting the oldest ones following the rule of the Least Recently Used (LRU) item. Nevertheless, this directory might still grow to quite a large size. Simply delete it if you want to get this space back.
  • cru_dir is the location where the CRU climate files are extracted. They are quite large! (approx. 6Gb)
  • rgi_dir is the location where the RGI shapefiles are extracted.
  • test_dir is the location where OGGM will write some of its output during tests. It can be set to tmp_dir if you want to, but it can also be another directory (for example a fast SSD disk). This folder shouldn’t grow too large but here again, delete it if you need to.


tmp_dir, cru_dir and rgi_dir can be overridden and set to a specific directory by defining an environment variable OGGM_EXTRACT_DIR to a directory path. Similarly, the environment variables OGGM_DOWNLOAD_CACHE and OGGM_DOWNLOAD_CACHE_RO override the dl_cache_dir and dl_cache_readonly settings.

Topography data

When creating a Glacier working directories a suitable topographical data source is chosen automatically, depending on the glacier’s location. Currently we use:

These data are downloaded only when needed and stored in the dl_cache_dir directory. The gridded topography is then reprojected and resampled to the local glacier map. The local grid is defined on a Transverse Mercator projection centered over the glacier, and has a spatial resolution depending on the glacier size. The default in OGGM is to use the following rule:

\[\Delta x = d_1 \sqrt{S} + d_2\]

where \(\Delta x\) is the grid spatial resolution (in m), \(S\) the glacier area (in km) and \(d_1\), \(d_2\) some parameters (set to 14 and 10, respectively). If the chosen spatial resolution is larger than 200 m (\(S \ge\) 185 km \(^{2}\)) we clip it to this value.

Important: when using these data sources for your OGGM runs, please refer to the original data provider of the data! OGGM will add a dem_source.txt file in each glacier directory specifying how to cite these data. We reproduce this information here:

Jarvis A., H.I. Reuter, A. Nelson, E. Guevara, 2008, Hole-filled seamless SRTM data V4, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), available from
Liu, H., K. C. Jezek, B. Li, and Z. Zhao. 2015. Radarsat Antarctic Mapping Project Digital Elevation Model, Version 2. Boulder, Colorado USA. NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center. doi:
Howat, I., A. Negrete, and B. Smith. 2014. The Greenland Ice Mapping Project (GIMP) land classification and surface elevation data sets, The Cryosphere. 8. 1509-1518.
There is no recommended citation for these data. Please refer to the website above in case of doubt.


A number of glaciers will still suffer from poor topographic information. Either the errors are large or obvious (in which case the model won’t run), or they are left unnoticed. The importance of reliable topographic data for global glacier modelling cannot be emphasized enough, and it is a pity that no consistent, global DEM is yet available for scientific use.

Climate data

The MB model implemented in OGGM needs monthly time series of temperature and precipitation. The current default is to download and use the CRU TS data provided by the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia.

CRU (default)

If not specified otherwise, OGGM will automatically download and unpack the latest dataset from the CRU servers.


While the downloaded zip files are ~370mb in size, they are ~5.6Gb large after decompression!

The raw, coarse (0.5°) dataset is then downscaled to a higher resolution grid (CRU CL v2.0 at 10’ resolution) following the anomaly mapping approach described by Tim Mitchell in his CRU faq (Q25). Note that we don’t expect this downscaling to add any new information than already available at the original resolution, but this allows us to have an elevation-dependent dataset based on a presumably better climatology. The monthly anomalies are computed following Harris et al., (2010): we use standard anomalies for temperature and scaled (fractional) anomalies for precipitation. At the locations where the monthly precipitation climatology is 0 we fall back to the standard anomalies.

When using these data, please refer to the original provider:

Harris, I., Jones, P. D., Osborn, T. J., & Lister, D. H. (2014). Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations - the CRU TS3.10 Dataset. International Journal of Climatology, 34(3), 623–642.

User-provided dataset

You can provide any other dataset to OGGM by setting the climate_file parameter in params.cfg. See the HISTALP data file in the sample-data folder for an example.

GCM data

OGGM can also use climate model output to drive the mass-balance model. In this case we still rely on gridded observations (CRU) for the baseline climatology and apply the GCM anomalies computed from a preselected reference period. This method is sometimes called the delta method.

Currently we can process data from the CESM Last Millenium Ensemble project (see tasks.process_cesm_data()), but adding other models should be relatively easy.

Mass-balance data