Application Tips for ENVI 5.x – An IDL application for opening HDF5 formatted HICO scenes

This is part of a series on tips for getting the most out of your geospatial applications. Check back regularly or follow HySpeed Computing to see the latest examples and demonstrations.

Objective: Open a HICO dataset stored in HDF5 format using an IDL application prepared by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

This is a supplement to an earlier post that similarly describes how to open HDF5 formatted HICO files using either the H5_Browser or new HDF5 Reader in ENVI.

HICO Montgomery Reef, Australia

Scenario: This tip demonstrates how to implement IDL code for opening a HDF5 HICO scene from Montgomery Reef, Australia into ENVI format. Subsequent steps are included for preparing the resulting data for further analysis.

The HICO dataset used in this example (H2012095004112.L1B_ISS) was downloaded from the NASA GSFC archive, which can be reached either through the HICO website at Oregon State University or the NASA GSFC Ocean Color website. Note that you can also apply to become a registered HICO Data User through the OSU website, and thereby obtain access to datasets already in ENVI format.

The IDL code used in this example is available from the NASA GSFC Ocean Color website under Documents > Software/Tools > IDL Library > hico. The three IDL files you need are:, and

The same IDL code is also included here for your convenience:  nrl_hico_h5_to_flat,  byte_ordering  and  write_nrl_header (re-distributed here with permission; disclaimers included in the code). However, to use these files (which were renamed so they could be attached to the post), you will first need to change the file extensions from *.txt to *.pro.

Running this code requires only minor familiarity working with IDL and the IDL Workbench.

The Tip: Below are steps to open the HICO L1B radiance and navigation datasets in ENVI using the IDL code prepared by the Naval Research Laboratory:

  • Start by unpacking the compressed folder (e.g., H2012095004112.L1B_ISS.bz2). If other software isn’t readily available, a good option is to download 7-zip for free from
  • Rename the resulting HDF5 file with a *.h5 extension (e.g., H2012095004112.L1B_ISS.h5). This allows the HDF5 tools in the IDL application to recognize the appropriate format.
  • If you downloaded the IDL files from this post, rename them from *.txt to *.pro (e.g., nrl_hico_h5_to_flat.txt to; otherwise, if you downloaded them from the NASA website they already have the correct naming convention.
  • Open the IDL files in the IDL Workbench. To do so, simply double-click the files in your file manager and the files should automatically open in IDL if it is installed on your machine. Alternatively, you can launch either ENVI+IDL or just IDL and then select File > Open in the IDL Workbench.
  • Compile each of the files in the following order: (i), (ii), and (iii) In the IDL Workbench this can be achieved by clicking on the tab associated with a given file and then selecting the Compile button in the menu bar.
  • You will ultimately only run the code for, but this application is dependent on the other files; hence the reason they also need to be compiled.
  • Run the code for, which this is done by clicking the tab for this file and then selecting the Run button in the menu bar.
  • You will then be prompted for an *.h5 input file (e.g., H2012095004112.L1B_ISS.h5), and a directory where you wish to write the output files.
  • There is no status bar associated with this operation; however, if you look closely at the IDL prompt in the IDL Console at the bottom of the Workbench you will note that it changes color while the process is running and returns to its normal color when the process is complete. In any event, the procedure is relatively quick and typically finishes in less than a minute.
  • Once complete, two sets of output files are created (data files + associated header files), one for the L1B radiance data and one for the navigation data.

Data Preparation: Below are the final steps needed to prepare the HICO data for further processing (repeated here in part from our previous post):

  • Open the L1B radiance and associated navigation data in ENVI. You will notice one side of the image exhibits a black stripe containing zero values.
  • As noted on the HICO website: “At some point during the transit and installation of HICO, the sensor physically shifted relative to the viewing slit. The edge of the viewing slit was visible in every scene.” This effect is removed by simply cropping out affected pixels in each of the data files. For scenes in standard forward orientation (+XVV), cropping includes 10 pixels on the left of the scene and 2 pixels on the right. Conversely, for scenes in reverse orientation (-XVV), cropping is 10 pixels on the right and 2 on the left.
  • If you’re not sure about the orientation of a particular scene, the orientation is specified in the newly created header file under hico_orientation_from_quaternion.
  • Spatial cropping can be performed by selecting Raster Management > Resize Data in the ENVI toolbox, choosing the relevant input file, selecting the option for Spatial Subset, subset the image for Samples 11-510 for forward orientation (3-502 for reverse orientation), and assigning a new output filename. Repeat as needed for each dataset.
  • The HDF5 formatted HICO scenes also require spectral cropping to reduce the total wavelengths from 128 to the 87 band subset from 0.4-0.9 um (400-900 nm). The bands outside this subset are considered less accurate and typically not included in analysis.
  • Spectral cropping can also be performed by selecting Raster Management > Resize Data in the ENVI toolbox, only in this case using the option to Spectral Subset and selecting bands 10-96 (corresponding to 0.40408-0.89669 um) while excluding bands 1-9 and 97-128. This step need only be applied to the hyperspectral L1B radiance data.
  • If desired, spectral and spatial cropping can both be applied in the same step.
  • The HICO scene is now ready for further processing and analysis in ENVI.

For more information on the sensor, detailed data characteristics, ongoing research projects, publications and presentations, and much, much more, HICO users are encouraged to visit the HICO website at Oregon State University. This is an excellent resource for all things HICO.


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