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Dear John (1) Thank you for your careful analysis and examples of the needs for this kind of data. I've been wondering how one can characterise it in general. Although most cases are "point" data of some kind, perhaps it would be right to describe all these kinds of data as "ungridded". That's a word which is used in various ways but it seems most apt to me for this situation. In terms of structure, what you are describing are kinds of data where the size of one dimension may vary as a function of index along another dimension. That is "ungridded" in a deeper sense than data which is not evenly arranged in x and y but is still contained within a rectangular array, for instance. (2) While the analogy to tables and SQL is interesting, personally I find the CDL expression most obvious. Moreover, it would be a fairly small extension to CF to include this kind of indirection. It is rather like the method described for compression by gathering in CF 8.2: dimensions: lat=73; lon=96; landpoint=2381; depth=4; variables: int landpoint(landpoint); landpoint:compress="lat lon"; float landsoilt(depth,landpoint); landsoilt:long_name="soil temperature"; landsoilt:units="K"; float depth(depth); float lat(lat); float lon(lon); Here the coordinate variable of the "gather" dimension (landpoint) is an index into the two dimensions which were jointly compressed by the gathering. As you mention, we could represent the ungridded case in a very inefficient way by constructing a coordinate variable which contains all possible values of the variable-size dimension, for instance: dimensions: station=10; pressure=11; allpossibletimes=6289; // for instance variables: double allpossibletimes(allpossibletimes); float pressure(pressure); float latitude(station); float humidity(pressure,allpossibletimes,station); and then compress it to eliminate the (time,station) combinations which don't occur: dimensions: station=10; pressure=11; allpossibletimes=6289; record=7478; // for instance variables: double allpossibletimes(allpossibletimes); float pressure(pressure); float latitude(station); int record(record); record:compress="allpossibletimes station"; float humidity(pressure,record); That would be workable for the ungridded case. It can even be more efficient than the schemes you describe, as it allows reuse of times that are common to more than one station, but it doesn't seem natural, as you don't really regard ungridded data as a compression of a huge sparse array. Instead of combining indices to station and time, you prefer to keep them separate: dimensions: station=10; pressure=11; record=7478; variables: float latitude(station); int station_index(record); station_index:compress="station"; double times(record); float pressure(pressure); float humidity(pressure,record); humidity:coordinates="station_index"; This is not the purpose for which the compress attribute was defined, but what we need here is similar. The compress attribute indicates that the value of its variable is an index into the dimensions listed, and if only one dimension is listed, it must be a 1D index. In this application the index will have many repeated values, because it's doing few->many by duplication rather than many->few by eliminating unused entries as it does when gathering. We could give the attribute a different name, since it's being used for a different purpose, and because it's being attached to an auxiliary coordinate variable rather than a coordinate variable. (3) In your examples you have auxiliary coordinate variables such as z(sample,z). In CF we recommend against giving an aux coord var the same name as a dimension, because this could confuse any software that was looking for (Unidata) coord vars but didn't check how many dimensions they had. (4) Much of the subsequent discussion has been about your proposed dataset classification. I think that the quantity of discussion indicates that the distinction is hard to draw, because it's one of interpretation and purpose rather than structure. I believe you intend this attribute as discovery metadata, don't you. Is it possible you could store such a description in one of the existing global attributes whose contents aren't standardised by CF? Best wishes Jonathan