Parallel programing with Dask

Dask is a library that allows to decompose an array into objects of small sizes (chunks). Therefore, big datasets are not loaded into memory at once. Additionnally, parallel computing is possible on these chunks objects. Let’s see an example.

First, the SST field is loaded using xarray

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import xarray as xr

data = xr.open_dataset('data/')
data = data.isel(olevel=0)
data = data['thetao']

Let’s compute the time-mean of the given dataset, and load in memory the output.

datamean = data.mean(dim='time_counter')
datamean = datamean.compute()  #  does the calculation and store in memory

Now, let’s spatially divide our dataset into squares of 150x150 pixels. This is done using the chunk method (you can also provide a chunks argument in the open_dataset method).

data = xr.open_dataset('data/')
data = data.isel(olevel=0)
data = data['thetao']
data = data.chunk({'x': 150, 'y': 150})
datamean2 = data.mean(dim='time_counter')
datamean2 = datamean2.compute()

The computation time is much better using the chunked data array. And the use of memory is reduced. To see how dask manages the computation, you can use the dask.visualize method. It first requires that the dask object is extracted from the xarray object.

datamean2 = data.mean(dim='time_counter')
dask_obj =

In the above graph, it can be seen that each chunk has it’s own (y, x) map.

If now the mean over all dimensions is computed:

datamean3 = data.mean()
dask_obj =

In this case, the mean maps are first computed for each chunk. Then the mean maps for some chunks are recombined together. The last 4 objects are finally aggregated together to give the final output.

Many functions are implemented in xarray and which will work with dask (cf the list of available functions).

However, if the function that you want to use is missing, user-defined ufunc can be created.

Using user-defined functions in parallel.

In order to use a function which is not implemented in the xarray list of universal functions, the xarray.apply_ufunc method should be used.

For instance, in order to to implement the scipy.signal.detrend function in a parallel manner, First, create a function that takes as arguments a numpy.array. Note that the dimension on which you will operate (for detrending, that would be time) will be the last one.

import scipy.signal as sig
import numpy as np

def gufunc_detrend(x):
    x[np.isnan(x)] = 0
    return sig.detrend(x)

Now that it is done, create a new method returns a xr.apply_ufunc object. The first argument is the above function, the second argument is the DataArray. The input_core_dims provides the names of the core dimensions, the ones on which the operations will be performed. In this case, time. Since the detrend function returns an array of the same size as the input, the output_core_dims should be provided as well.

def xarray_detrend(x, dim):
    return xr.apply_ufunc(

Now, we read our data based on a specific chunk layout. Note that the time dimension must remain unchunked, hence the -1.

data = xr.open_dataset('data/', 
                       chunks={'time_counter': -1, 'x': 150, 'y' : 150})
data = data['thetao']
data = data.isel(olevel=0)

Now we compute the monthly anomalies:

dataclim = data.groupby('time_counter.month').mean(dim='time_counter')
data = data.groupby('time_counter.month') - dataclim
data = data.chunk({'time_counter': -1, 'y': 150, 'y': 150})
calc = xarray_detrend(data, dim='time_counter').compute()

Note that you can call the compute method in association with a progress bar as follows:

from dask.diagnostics import ProgressBar
with ProgressBar():
    calc = xarray_detrend(data, dim='time_counter').compute()

Now let’s check if trend seems ok. First, we extract the detrended time-series on a specific location

coords = dict(x=90, y=165)
calcts = calc.isel(**coords)  # detrendet time series

Then, we extract the raw anomalies on the same location

datats = data.isel(**coords)

Now, we can plot the raw anomalies and the associated trend:

plt.plot(datats, label='anomalies')
plt.plot(datats - calcts, label='trend')

Use on HPCs

It is theoretically possible to parallel Dask operations on HPCs, such as Datarmor. This is achieved by using the dask-jobqueue in association with the dask.distributed module. For instance, to run a computation on a PBS cluster such as Datarmor, the PBSCluster method should be used.

The first step is to create a jobqueue.yaml file in the ~/.config/dask directory. This file contains all the PBS settings for the cluster you are working on (cf. here for the Datarmor configuration). These are the settings for a single job..

There must be also a distributed.yaml configuration file, which contains the settings for the HPC server. An example is available here.

When done, create your Python script as shown below (taken from dask example page).

from dask_jobqueue import PBSCluster
cluster = PBSCluster()
cluster.scale(jobs=10)  # launch 10 jobs

To see the job script:


Now init the Client object using the cluster defined in the above:

from dask.distributed import Client
client = Client(cluster)  # Connect this local process to remote workers

When done, run your Dask operations

# wait for jobs to arrive, depending on the queue, this may take some time
import dask.array as da

This is not even clear for me, so use with caution!!!

For more informations: