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NCL - NCAR Command Language - is an open source interpreted language, designed specifically for scientific data processing and 2D visualization in the field of earth system sciences.
NCL Globe Orography
NCL Multi Timeseries Plot

NCL Vectors Overlay Plot


NCL was designed for the analysis and visualization of scientific data, specifically in the area of atmospheric modelling. It combines many features of modern programming languages with a huge number of analysis and visualization functions and examples.

It supports a variety of input file formats like netCDF3/4, GRIB1/2, HDF-SDS, HDF-EOS, HDF5, Shapefiles, Fortran/C binary and ASCII. NCL can also export (write) data to netCDF3, netCDF4, HDF4, HDF5, Binary and ASCII and the graphics output can be saved in PS, EPS, EPSI, PDF, PNG, or to a X11 window for fast debugging.

Plot types:

XY plots Contour Slices Vectors
Streamlines           Trajectories            Scatter plots          Bar Charts              
 Histograms  Overlays  Panel plots  Shapefiles


At DKRZ, NCL is installed on different platforms in different versions. The environment settings can be loaded using the ‘module load’ function. After loading the module file of NCL, the user does not need to set any further environment variables, as this is done by the module function.

The function call

     module apropos ncl

will return the name of the NCL environment module file which can be loaded by

    module load <NCL-name>

For example

    module load ncl/6.4.0-gccsys



Example scripts and their resulting plots

More example scripts and used data for plotting rectilinear, curvilinear (MPIOM) or unstructured (ICON) gridded data can be found

and on mistral in the directory /sw/common/ncl.



The NCL User Guide v1.1 is an expanded version of DKRZ's NCL Tutorial.

NCL User Guide Version  (pdf, 26 MB, 300 pages)

Recommended:  use newer official NCL User Guide v1.1

This NCL Tutorial document was developed at DKRZ. It gives an introduction on the use of NCL to interactively visualize typical climate model data or to use it in batch mode by means of NCL scripts. Many examples demonstrate the visualization and data analyzing capabilities of NCL.

For users of DKRZ's visualization facilities: all example scripts and data are available on the mistral's file system.

NCL Tutorial 1.1 (pdf, 9 MB, 150 pages)

DKRZ NCL Tutorial title page border h200

The DKRZ's NCL supplement doc Plot Layout tries to give the user a deeper look to NCL's title, labelbar, legend, axis or tickmark settings including tips and examples. This document is now part of the official NCL User Guide.

 DKRZ_NCL_Supplements_Doc_layout  (pdf, 4 MB, 49 pages)
DKRZ NCL supplement doc plot layout w200

A short graphical overview of the title, axis and tickmark labels.



NCL annotations overview (pdf, 900 KB, 2 pages)

The official NCL quick reference card based on the DKRZ's NCL scripting language reference card. It provides a quick overview of the NCL scripting language (NCL v6.2.0).

NCL quick reference card
This is a set of reference cards for the NCL functions and procedures available in NCL 6.2.0. The functions and procedures are listed with a short information to give just an overview on them. The user has to go to NCL's functions web page for further information cause of the huge amount of the functions.

 NCL reference card functions and procedures: Basics


NCL reference card functions and procedures: Graphics

 NCL reference card functions and procedures: Science

DKRZ NCL ref card f+p basics w200

DKRZ NCL ref card f+p graphics w200

DKRZ NCL ref card f+p science w200

EGU 2014

Splinter meeting SPM1.12 'Visualization Tools - A light hands-on' - NCL

Example scripts for rectilinear (ECHAM), curvilinear (MPI-ESM-LR) and unstructured (ICON) data are used to demonstrate the capabilities of NCL.


 NCL - light hands-on examples for EGU 2014

EGU2014 NCL light hands-on page

EGU 2015

PICO Session ESSI3.2 ”State of the Art in Earth Science Data Visualization”

NCL – a workhorse for data analysis and visualization in climate research” by Karin Meier-Fleischer, Michael Böttinger, and Mary Haley


EGU 2015 PICO13896 NCL (pdf, 18 MB)




 Example:   Use of shapefiles to calculate and display averaged data on a regional map.

NCL shapefile example averages northern Germany


Example:  Spinning Globes (Animation of two different data sets over time with changing projection settings)