# Glossary

This glossary introduces the major technical terms used in the openEO project.

# General terms

  • EO: Earth observation
  • API: application programming interface (wikipedia (opens new window)); a communication protocol between client and back-end
  • client: software tool or environment that end-users directly interact with, e.g. R (RStudio), Python (Jupyter notebook), and JavaScript (web browser); R and Python are two major data science platforms; JavaScript is a major language for web development
  • (cloud) back-end: server; computer infrastructure (one or more physical computers or virtual machines) used for storing EO data and processing it
  • big Earth observation cloud back-end: server infrastructure where industry and researchers analyse large amounts of EO data

# Processes

A process is an operation that performs a specific task on a set of parameters and returns a result. An example is computing a statistical operation, such as mean or median, on selected EO data. A process is similar to a function or method in programming languages.

A pre-defined process is a process provided by the back-end, often one of the ones centrally defined by openEO.

A user-defined process is a process defined by the user. It can directly be part of another process graph or be stored as custom process on a back-end. Internally it is a process graph with optional additional metadata.

A process graph chains specific process calls from the set of pre-defined and user-defined processes together. A process graph itself is a (user-defined) process again. Similarly to scripts in the context of programming, process graphs organize and automate the execution of one or more processes that could alternatively be executed individually. In a process graph, processes need to be specific, i.e. concrete values for input parameters need to be specified. These arguments can again be process graphs, scalar values, arrays or objects.

# EO data (Collections)

In our domain, different terms are used to describe EO data(sets). Within openEO, a granule (sometimes also called item or asset in the specification) typically refers to a limited area and a single overpass leading to a very short observation period (seconds) or a temporal aggregation of such data (e.g. for 16-day MODIS composites). A collection is a sequence of granules sharing the same product specification. It typically corresponds to the series of products derived from data acquired by a sensor on board a satellite and having the same mode of operation.

The CEOS OpenSearch Best Practice Document v1.2 (opens new window) lists the following synonyms used by other organizations:

  • granule: dataset (ESA, ISO 19115), granule (NASA), product (ESA, CNES), scene (JAXA)
  • collection: dataset series (ESA, ISO 19115), collection (CNES, NASA), dataset (JAXA), product (JAXA)

In openEO, a back-end offers a set of collections to be processed. All collections can be requested using a client and are described using the STAC (SpatioTemporal Asset Catalog) metadata specification (opens new window) as STAC collections. A user can load (a subset of) a collection using a special process, which returns a (spatial) data cube. All further processing is then applied to the data cube on the back-end.

# Spatial data cubes

A spatiotemporal data cube is a multidimensional array with one or more spatial or temporal dimensions. In the EO domain, it is common to be implicit about the temporal dimension and just refer to them as spatial data cubes in short. Special cases are raster and vector data cubes.

The figure below shows the data of a four-dimensional (8 x 8 x 2 x 2) raster data cube, with dimension names and labels:

# dimension name dimension labels
1 x 288790.5, 288819, 288847.5, 288876, 288904.5, 288933, 288961.5, 288990
2 y 9120747, 9120718, 9120690, 9120661, 9120633, 9120604, 9120576, 9120547
3 band red, green
4 time 2018-02-10, 2018-02-17
Data cube example
Dimensions x and time are aligned along the x-axis; y and band are aligned along the y-axis.

Data cubes as defined here have a single value (scalar) for each unique combination of dimension labels. The value pointed to by arrows corresponds to the combination of x=288847.5 (red arrow), y=9120661 (yellow arrow), band=red (blue arrow), time=2018-02-17 (green arrow), and its value is 84 (brown arrow).

If the data concerns grayscale imagery, we could call this single value a pixel value. One should keep in mind that it is never a tuple of, say, {red, green, blue} values. "Cell value of a single raster layer" would be a better analogy; data cube cell value may be a good compromise.

A data cube stores some additional properties per dimension such as:

Having these properties available allows to easily resample from one data cube to another for example.

Dimension labels are either of type number or string, including all sub types such as integers or temporal strings. Additional data types may be allowed in the future. Dimensions with a natural/inherent label order (with a reference system this is each spatial and temporal dimensions) are always sorted. Other dimensions where there is no inherent order, including bands, they have the order in which they have been defined in metadata or processes (e.g. filter_bands) and new labels are added at the end.

# apply: processes that process individual values

apply and the apply_* processes work on individual values (pixels) and usually don't reduce or change the array dimensions much.

The process apply can be used to apply (map) unary functions to all values in a data cube without changing any dimensions at all.

The process apply_dimension applies an n-ary function to a particular dimension.


  • Simplified: apply([🌽, πŸ₯”, πŸ”], cook) => [🍿, 🍟, πŸ—]
  • apply: Apply a mathematical operation such as absolute, e.g. apply([-1, 2, -3], absolute) => [1, 2, 3]
  • apply_dimension: apply a moving average filter along the time dimension to implement temporal smoothing

# filter: subsetting dimensions by dimension label selection

The filter_* processes makes a cube smaller by selecting specific value ranges for a particular dimension.


  • Simplified: filter([🌽, πŸ₯”, πŸ”], isVegetarian) => [🌽, πŸ₯”]
  • filter_bands: a band filter that selects the red band
  • filter_spatial: a spatial filter that "crops" the data cube to the boundaries of Italy
  • [filter_temporal](](processes.md#filter_temporal): a temporal filter that retains only the data for 2020

# reduce: removing dimensions entirely by computation

The reduce_* processes remove a dimension by "rolling up" or summarizing the values along that dimension to a single value.


  • Simplified: reduce(πŸ₯¬, πŸ₯’, πŸ…, πŸ§…) => πŸ₯—
  • reduce_dimension:
    • Eliminate the time dimension by calculating the mean
    • Eliminate the band dimension by calculating the NDVI

# aggregate: reducing resolution

Aggregation computes new values from sets of values that are assigned to groups. The assignment to the groups is not necessarily unique. It involves a grouping predicate (e.g. monthly, 100 m x 100 m grid cells, or a set of non-overlapping spatial polygons), and an reducer (e.g., mean) that computes one or more new values from the original ones.

In effect, the aggregate_* processes combine the following three steps:

  • split the data cube in groups, based on dimension constraints (time intervals, band groups, spatial polygons)
  • apply a reducer to each group (similar to the reduce_dimension process, but reducing a group rather than an entire dimension)
  • combine the result to a new data cube, with some dimensions having reduced resolution (or e.g. raster to vector converted)


  • Simplified: aggregate(πŸ‘ͺ πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘¦ πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘¦β€πŸ‘¦, countFamilyMembers) => [3️⃣, 2️⃣, 4️⃣]
  • aggregate_temporal_period: a weekly time series may be aggregated to monthly values by computing the mean for all values in a month (grouping predicate: month)
  • aggregate_spatial: spatial aggregation that computes mean pixel values for each country (grouping predicate: country area)

# resample: changing data cube geometry

Resampling - using the resample_* processes - considers the case where we have data at one resolution and coordinate reference system, and need values at another. In case we have values at a 100 m x 100 m grid and need values at a 10 m x 10 m grid, the original values will be reused many times, and may be simply assigned to the nearest high resolution grid cells (nearest neighbor method), or may be interpolated using various methods (e.g. by bilinear interpolation). This is often called upsampling or upscaling.

Resampling from finer to coarser grid is a special case of aggregation often called downsampling or downscaling.

When the target grid or time series has a lower resolution (larger grid cells) or lower frequency (longer time intervals) than the source grid, aggregation might be used for resampling. For example, if the resolutions are similar, (e.g. the source collection provides 10 day intervals and the target needs values for 16 day intervals), then some form of interpolation may be more appropriate than aggregation as defined here.

Another use case of resampling in openEO is to change the projection of the data cube.


  • Simplified:
    • resample(πŸ–ΌοΈ, downscale) =>🟦
    • resample(🌍, reproject) => πŸ—ΊοΈ
  • Downsample from 1 meter resolution to 100 meter resolution
  • Upsample from 20 meter resolution to 10 meter resolution
  • Reproject from WGS84 to Web Mercator projection

# Coordinate reference system as a data cube dimension

In the data cube example above, x and y dimension values have a unique relationship to world coordinates through their coordinate reference system (crs). This implies that a single coordinate reference system is associated with these x and y dimensions. If we want to create a data cube from multiple tiles spanning different coordinate reference systems (e.g. Sentinel-2: different UTM zones), we would have to resample/warp those to a single coordinate reference system. In many cases, this is wanted because we want to be able to look at the result, meaning it is available in a single coordinate reference system.

Resampling is however costly, involves (some) data loss, and is in general not reversible. Suppose that we want to work only on the spectral and temporal dimensions of a data cube, and do not want to do any resampling. In that case, one could create one data cube for each coordinate reference system. An alternative would be to create one single data cube containing all tiles that has an additional dimension with the coordinate reference system. In that data cube, x and y no longer point to a unique world coordinate, because identical x and y coordinate pairs occur in each UTM zone. Now, only the combination (x, y, crs) has a uniqe relationship to the world coordinates.

On such a crs-dimensioned data cube, several operations make perfect sense, such as apply or reduce_dimension on spectral and/or temporal dimensions. A simple reduction over the crs dimension, using sum or mean would typically not make sense. The "reduction" (removal) of the crs dimension that is meaningful involves the resampling/warping of all sub-cubes for the crs dimension to a single, common target coordinate reference system.

# User-defined function (UDF)

The abbreviation UDF stands for user-defined function. With this concept, users are able to upload custom code and have it executed e.g. for every pixel of a scene, or applied to a particular dimension or set of dimensions, allowing custom server-side calculations. See the section on UDFs for more information.

# Data Processing modes

Processes can run in three different ways:

  1. Results can be pre-computed by creating a batch job. They are submitted to the back-end's processing system, but will remain inactive until explicitly put into the processing queue. They will run only once and store results after execution. Results can be downloaded. Batch jobs are typically time consuming and user interaction is not possible although log files are generated for them. This is the only mode that allows to get an estimate about time, volume and costs beforehand.
  2. A more dynamic way of processing and accessing data is to create a secondary web service. They allow web-based access using different protocols such as OGC WMS (opens new window) (Open Geospatial Consortium Web Map Service), OGC WCS (opens new window) (Web Coverage Service) or XYZ tiles (opens new window). These protocols usually allow users to change the viewing extent or level of detail (zoom level). Therefore, computations often run on demand so that the requested data is calculated during the request. Back-ends should make sure to cache processed data to avoid additional/high costs and reduce waiting times for the user.
  3. Processes can also be executed on-demandΒ (i.e. synchronously). Results are delivered with the request itself and no job is created. Only lightweight computations, for example previews, should be executed using this approach as timeouts are to be expected for long-polling HTTP requests (opens new window).