This section gives the answers to many of our most frequently asked questions.

If your question is not answered here, please submit your query to the CoastWatch Help Desk at

About CoastWatch

NOAA CoastWatch/OceanWatch is a NOAA-wide program. Our mission is to process satellite data and provide oceanographic satellite products to federal, state and local stakeholders such as marine scientists, coastal resource managers, and the general public. NOAA CoastWatch/OceanWatch is comprised of Central Operations and several Nodes. Links to the Nodes are found on the Regional Nodes page. Go to the About section for more information about the mission and organizational structure of NOAA CoastWatch/OceanWatch.

Yes! Although the origins of CoastWatch began by covering specific US coastal regions, including the Great Lakes, we now have global coverage for many satellite data products at Additionally, two OceanWatch nodes focus on satellite data for the open ocean, one for the Atlantic and one for the Pacific. Coverage for high latitudes in both Arctic and Antarctic regions is being developed by PolarWatch.

The US Great Lakes are included in NOAA's official jurisdiction and some satellite data products are available for the Great Lakes regions. Additionally, CoastWatch has a Great Lakes regional node.

No, although there may occasionally be satellite images of hurricanes posted on the site for general interest, CoastWatch is not responsible for distributing hurricane information.

Please visit the National Hurricane Center website for official hurricane images, forecasts, and advisories.

CoastWatch does not have aerial photos. We provide satellite ocean remote sensing products with global coverage and for specialized regions around the US and specialized regions outside of the US in support of our international partner agencies. These products are publically available and can be found by using the Satellite Data Products link or contact our helpdesk for assistance.

There are many uses for CoastWatch data. For instance, temperature images are used to locate fishing spots and for forecasting weather. Ocean color images help scientists track biological changes in the ocean, while sea surface wind images are used primarily by meteorologists and boaters. See the How our data are used and Emily's Post for more examples and stories.

The primary NOAA CoastWatch/OceanWatch website is maintained by Central Operations, housed at the scientific research and development arm (STAR) of NESDIS in College Park, MD, USA. Regional Nodes have unique websites for data distribution which focus on their geographical region and/or their primary expertise and user base. Links to these sites are found on the Regional Nodes page. More information here about the organizational structure of NOAA CoastWatch/OceanWatch

Satellite Data Products

CoastWatch provides access to oceanic and related environmental parameters derived from satellite observations, including:

Some data are processed in near real-time and are usually only a few hours old. Other datasets we host are long term time series. Some datasets are tailored specifically for institutional users and are generated routinely by CoastWatch Central Operations or by the Nodes. Other datasets are generated by the NESDIS/STAR science teams and are served by CoastWatch.

CoastWatch provides data from several sensors on several satellite platforms. For more detailed information, see the Satellite Data Products.

Ocean Color

OLCI/Sentinel-3 (Copernicus)

Sea Surface Height (coming soon) - 5 satellites


Sea Surface Salinity

Aquarius (historical data only)

Sea Surface Temperature

GOES/Imager (NOAA)
GOES-POES blended products (NOAA)






Sentinel-1a and 1b
another one

True Color


Links to CoastWatch data products can be found under the 'Data Access' tab within each Satellite Data Product main page.

Yes. Currently, we have 2 types of search tools you may find useful. Other tools are in development and will be released soon. One of the search interfaces allows data selection broken down into the following categories: geographic region, product, sensor, satellite, and date.

Another search tool allows user to select and order Level 2 granule files for Ocean Color products (both VIIRS SNPP and OLCI Sentinel-3).

Accuracies vary with each type of sensor and processing used. Validation for most products are available through websites that describe the methodology and techniques used to create CoastWatch products. Metadata includes approximations of parameter and spatial accuracies. Please consult the "details" and "information" tabs for each product of interest.

The West Coast Node runs an annual satellite training course. This Satellite Data Primer (PDF) written by Dr. Cara Wilson at NOAA’s SouthEast Fisheries Science Center is their course material.

Contact the CoastWatch Help Desk if you need more guidance in choosing a product suitable for your particular application

Data Formats and Software

CoastWatch supports a variety of data formats for satellite images.

The new standard format is NetCDF CF. We are systematically transitioning data products to NetCDF CF but some datasets are still available in the CW HDF (Hierarchical Data Format). Both of these formats retain highly accurate data values and metadata required for scientific analysis.

Image products may be available in GeoTIFF and PNG formats. These products are easily viewable in graphics applications or web browsers.

The CoastWatch Software Library and Utilities package allows data users to easily manipulate and visualize satellite data in NetCDF (.nc), and CoastWatch HDF (.hdf). The utilities are composed of both graphical and command-line tools that can read CoastWatch data and allow the user to convert or customize the display of CoastWatch products.

The latest version of the software and utilities package is available for free through this website. New versions are released periodically.

Other commercially available satellite data software packages may also work with CoastWatch data.

Yes, most CoastWatch products are now offered in formats suitable for use with the CoastWatch Utilities. Format of products offered at regional nodes may vary.

Since CoastWatch doesn't provide the binary data in FLT/HDR format online, you can convert CoastWatch HDF files to ESRI Binary Raster using the CoastWatch Utility command 'cwexport.'