[CF-metadata] How to define time coordinate in GPS?

Jim Biard jbiard at cicsnc.org
Fri Apr 24 13:22:27 MDT 2015


I think the answer depends rather heavily on the way people obtained 
their elapsed times that they stored in their time variables. If they 
started with time stamps and the conversion to and from elapsed times 
was done with software that doesn't consider leap seconds, then the 
recovered time stamps will be correct, whether they represent UTC, GPS, 
TAI or something else. The problems arise when your input is elapsed 
times that don't contain leap seconds (such as GPS or TAI), or when a 
different scheme is used for conversion from a time stamp to an elapsed 
time than for conversion from an elapsed time to a time stamp.

Given that most of our time conversions from time stamps to elapsed 
times haven't taken leap seconds into account up until now, the elapsed 
times in these cases *are* encoding leap seconds if the time stamps were 
UTC. They aren't being reduced to true elapsed time since an epoch.

By the way, modern *nix systems provide a means to have your system 
account for leap seconds when converting to and from time stamps to 
elapsed times, so *nix elapsed times on some systems could be true 
elapsed times. (Wheee!)

I don't think calendars are the right place to encode this. We could add 
a new "time_system" attribute where you would declare whether your time 
stamps and elapsed times were based on UTC, GPS, TAI, etc. If we take 
this route, we should require the elapsed times to encode leap seconds 
if the time system is UTC, and state that the default time system is UTC.

We could also be more strict, and say the epoch time stamp in the units 
attribute must always be in UTC. The question would then be reduced to 
whether or not leap seconds were counted into the elapsed times stored 
in the time variable. In this case, we could add a "leap_seconds" 
attribute which would have a value of "UTC" if UTC leap seconds were 
counted into the elapsed times, and "none" if not. This would also allow 
for some other system of leap seconds to be used. (I don't know if there 
are others.) For backward compatibility, considering history, the 
default value for this attribute would probably be "UTC".

Grace and peace,


On 4/24/15 12:26 PM, Jonathan Gregory wrote:
> Dear all
> Thanks for these interesting contributions. In CF terms, it seems that UTC and
> GPS time are different calendars, because of the leap seconds in UTC. A given
> YMDhms date-time will sometimes be a different number of time-units since
> reference-time in the two calendars. We ought to clarify the CF document, which
> current assumes that the default calendar (the real-world Julian/Gregorian one)
> is UTC for modern times. Since udunits and most software doesn't support leap
> seconds, as Seth says, maybe we should amend the document to point out that
> the default calendar is not exactly UTC because of this, and note that it has a
> fixed offset to GPS time. Then we would need to introduce a new calendar of
> utc, valid only for dates since UTC was defined. We could do it the other way
> round, and define the default as UTC, but that would probably not be right for
> (nearly) all existing data, and not convenient for (nearly) all software. Is
> this correct?
> Best wishes
> Jonathan
> ----- Forwarded message from Seth McGinnis <mcginnis at ucar.edu> -----
>> Date: Thu, 23 Apr 2015 13:06:21 -0600
>> From: Seth McGinnis <mcginnis at ucar.edu>
>> To: cf-metadata at cgd.ucar.edu
>> Subject: Re: [CF-metadata] How to define time coordinate in GPS?
>> User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10.9; rv:31.0)
>> 	Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/31.6.0
>> Julien,
>> I would say that you don't need to do anything.  Your data is already in
>> GPS time.
>> Strictly speaking, you can't specify a different time referential,
>> because CF says to specify the time units following the recommendations
>> of udunits, and udunits assumes that all times are relative to UTC.
>> HOWEVER, udunits ignores leap seconds, and time under CF is represented
>> as a continuous count of constant-size units from some starting point.
>> Which I believe means that although both spec documents say "UTC", in
>> practice CF-netcdf is actually representing time as GPS/TAI time instead.
>> Moreover, as far as I can tell, practically all the software out there
>> that converts netcdf times to dates is unaware of leap seconds anyway,
>> and even if you wanted them you would have to do extra work to get them.
>> So I think if you set the units attribute as given in your example,
>> you'll be fine.  If you want to be extra-careful, you could annotate the
>> time variable with a "note" attribute indicating that it's GPS time, not
>> UTC time, with no leap seconds.
>> There was a discussion on the mailing list about leap seconds last July:
>> http://mailman.cgd.ucar.edu/pipermail/cf-metadata/2014/057556.html
>> Cheers,
>> --Seth
>> On 4/23/15 8:19 AM, Julien Demaria wrote:
>>> Dear Jonathan,
>>> I?m also not an expert on this:
>>> ?GPS, Global Positioning System time, is the atomic time scale
>>> implemented by the atomic clocks in the GPS ground control stations and
>>> the GPS satellites themselves. GPS time was zero at 0h 6-Jan-1980 and
>>> since it is not perturbed by leap seconds GPS is now ahead of UTC by 16
>>> seconds.?
>>> http://www.leapsecond.com/java/gpsclock.htm
>>> a more detailed explanation:
>>> https://confluence.qps.nl/display/KBE/UTC+to+GPS+Time+Correction
>>> Thanks in advance,
>>> Julien
>>>> Jonathan Gregory j.m.gregory at reading.ac.uk
>>>> Thu Apr 23 07:58:09 MDT 2015
>>>> Dear Julien
>>>> Could you explain what the difference is between GPS time and UTC (for a non-
>>>> expert such as me)?
>>>> Thanks
>>>> Jonathan
>>> *De :*Julien Demaria
>>> *Envoy? :* jeudi 23 avril 2015 14:51
>>> *? :* 'cf-metadata at cgd.ucar.edu'
>>> *Objet :* How to define time coordinate in GPS?
>>> Hi,
>>> I need to define a time coordinate variable which use the GPS time
>>> referential instead of UTC, but I did not found how to specify this.
>>> For the moment my variable look like this :
>>>                  int64 time_stamp(rows) ;
>>>                                 time_stamp:standard_name = "time" ;
>>>                                 time_stamp:units = "microseconds since
>>> 2000-01-01 00:00:00" ;
>>>                                 time_stamp:_FillValue = -1L ;
>>> Thanks in advance,
>>> Julien
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> CF-metadata mailing list
>>> CF-metadata at cgd.ucar.edu
>>> http://mailman.cgd.ucar.edu/mailman/listinfo/cf-metadata
>> _______________________________________________
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> ----- End forwarded message -----
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