Frequenty Asked Questions and support for Parcels

Parcels (Probably A Really Computationally Efficient Lagrangian Simulator) is a set of Python classes and methods to create customisable particle tracking simulations using output from Ocean Circulation models. Parcels focusses on tracking of passive water parcels, as well as active particulates such as plankton, plastic and fish.

The Parcels code is licensed under an open source MIT license and can be downloaded from

There is also an extensive documentation of all methods and classes in Parcels.

Parcels design overview

The figure above gives a brief overview of the most important classes and methods in Parcels and how they are related. Classes are in blue, methods are in green. Note that not all classes and methods are shown.

Tips on constructing FieldSet objects

Probably the trickiest bit to get right when starting with Parcels on your own model output is how to construct a FieldSet object. The general method to use is FieldSet.from_netcdf(), which requires filenames, variables and dimensions. Each of these is a dictionary, and variables requires at least a U and V, but any other variable can be added too (e.g. temperature, mixedlayerdepth, etc). Note also that filenames can contain wildcards. For example, the GlobCurrent data that is shipped with Parcels can be read with:
fname = 'GlobCurrent_example_data/*.nc'
filenames = {'U': fname, 'V': fname}
variables = {'U': 'eastward_eulerian_current_velocity', 'V': 'northward_eulerian_current_velocity'}
dimensions = {'lat': 'lat', 'lon': ‘lon', 'depth': 'depth', 'time': 'time'}
fset = FieldSet.from_netcdf(filenames, variables, dimensions)
Note that dimensions can also be a dictionary-of-dictionaries. For example, if you have wind data on a completely different grid (and without depth dimension), you can do:
fname = 'GlobCurrent_example_data/*.nc'
wname = 'path_to_your_windfiles'
filenames = {'U': fname, 'V': fname, 'wind': wname}
variables = {'U': 'eastward_eulerian_current_velocity', 'V': 'northward_eulerian_current_velocity', 'wind': 'wind'}
dimensions = {}
dimensions['U'] = {'lat': 'lat', 'lon': 'lon', 'depth': ‘depth’, 'time': 'time'}
dimensions['V'] = {'lat': 'lat', 'lon': 'lon', 'depth': ‘depth’, 'time': 'time'}
dimensions['wind'] = {'lat': 'latw', 'lon': 'lonw', 'time': ‘time'}
fset = FieldSet.from_netcdf(filenames, variables, dimensions)
In a similar way, you can add U and V fields that are on different grids (e.g. Arakawa C-grids). Parcels will take care under the hood that the different grids are dealt with properly.

Writing Parcels Kernels

One of the most powerful features of Parcels is the ability to write custom Kernels (see e.g. the Adding-a-custom-behaviour-kernel part of the Tutorial). These Kernels are little snippets of code that get executed by Parcels, giving the ability to add ‘behaviour’ to particles.

However, there are some key limitations to the Kernels that everyone who wants to write their own should be aware of: All other functions and methods are not supported yet in Parcels Kernels. If there is a functionality that can not be programmed with this limited set of commands, please create an Issue ticket.

The output format of ParticleFile

The information on particle trajectories is stored in NetCDF format, when using the ParticleFile class. The file contains arrays of at least the time, lon, lat and z (depth) of each particle trajectory, plus any extra custom Variables defined in the pclass.

Each row in these arrays corresponds to a particle, and each column is an 'observation'. Note that, when particles are added during runtime, their first position is still stored in the first column, so that not all particles in the same column necessarily share the same time. The time of each observation is stored in the time array.