For a future workshop I'll have to fit arbitrary functions (independent variable is height z) to data from multiple sources (output of different numerical weather prediction models) in a yet unknown format (but basically gridded height/value pairs). The functions only have to interpolate the data and be differentiable. There should explicitly be no theoretical background for the type of function, but they should be smooth. The goal is to use the gridded (meaning discrete) output of the numerical weather prediction model in our pollutant dispersion model, which requires continuous functions.


  1. choose the input model
  2. load input data
  3. define list of variables (not necessarily always the same)
  4. define height ranges (for the piecewise function)
  5. define base functions like "a0 + a1*z" for each height range and variable
  6. optionally define weights, because some parts are more important that others
  7. fit the piecewise functions
  8. save the fitted functions and their derivatives as Fortran 90 free form source code (to be included in our model)

I don't think 1.-6. can be automated, but the rest should be.


from __future__ import absolute_import
from __future__ import division
from __future__ import print_function
from __future__ import unicode_literals
import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
from scipy.optimize import curve_fit
from sympy import log, ln, Piecewise, lambdify, symbols, sympify, fcode, sqrt

def config(name):
    """Configuration of the piecewise function fitting, dependent on input name

    name... name of experiment to fit data to, basically chooses settings
    var_list... list of variables to fit
    infunc_list_dict... dictionary with var_list as keys, each having a list as
        value that contains strings with the sub-function to fit, from
        the bottom up. Only the first (lowest) may have a constant value, all
        others must be 0 at the height they "take over" (where their argument
        is 0). There, the value of the lower, fitted function is added to
        ensure continuity. The parameters for each function HAVE to be of the
        pattern "aX", where "X" is numerically increasing (0, 1, 2...) within
        each sub-function.
        The arguments of aloft functions (not the bottom most) are usually
        "z - t", unless there is some trickery with "s"
        A constant, first sub-function is 'a0', while constant sub-function
        aloft has to be '0' for technical reasons.
        Variables replaced by values:
            - t... current threshold height
            - s... transition value at height t
            - zi.. bounday layer height
    thresh_list_dict... dictionary with var_list as keys, each having a list as
        value that contains the height where the piecewise functions change.
        for technical reasons the ground (0) and the top (np.inf) are also
    weight_list_dict... dictionary with var_list as keys, each having a list as
        value that contains relative weights (to 1) that are used to force the
        fitting to be closer to the real value at crucial points. This is
        around the threshold heights, at the ground and at the ABL. To "turn
        off" a weight, set it to 1. The first weight is at the ground and then
        there are two around each treshold height and the last at the top.
        i.e: [ground,
            lower-of-thresh0, upper-of-thresh0,
            lower-of-thresh1, upper-of-thresh1,
        the first function uses ground and lower-of-thresh0,
        the second uses upper-of-thresh0 and  lower-of-thresh1 until
        the last uses lower-of-threshI and top
    wefact_list_dict... analog to weight_list_dict, except that it contains
        the relative distance where the weight in weight_list_dict is applied.
        Relative distance means here: fraction of the total subrange. Typical
        values are 0.1 or 0.2, meaning 10 or 20% of the total subrange take the
        accompanying weight. If the corresponding weight equals 1, the value
        has no influence.
    teston... True: create plots; False: don't
    saveon... True: don't show plots, save them as pdfs (only if teston==True).
    printon... True: print output to console; False: don't
    teston = True
    saveon = False
    printon = False

    # ========= TMP220 =========
    if name == 'tmp220':
        abl_height = 990
        var_list = ['um', 'u2', 'v2', 'w2', 'w3', 'uw', 'eps']
        infunc_list_dict = {
            'um': ['a0*ln(z-t)**3 + a1*ln(z-t)**2 + a2*ln(z-t) + a3'],
            'u2': ['a0 + a1*(z-t) + a2*(z-t)**2 + a3*(z-t)**3 + a4*(z-t)**4 + a5*(z-t)**5',
                'a0*(z-t) + a1*(z-t)**2'],
            'v2': ['a0 + a1*(z-t) + a2*(z-t)**2 + a3*(z-t)**3 + a4*(z-t)**4 + a5*(z-t)**5',
                'a0*(z-t) + a1*(z-t)**2'],
            'w2': ['a0 + a1*(z-t) + a2*(z-t)**2 + a3*(z-t)**3 + a4*(z-t)**4 + a5*(z-t)**5',
                'a0*(z-t) + a1*(z-t)**2'],
            'w3': ['a0',
            'uw': ['a0 + a1*(z-t) + a2*(z-t)**2 + a3*(z-t)**3 + a4*(z-t)**4 + a5*(z-t)**5',
                'a0*(z-t) + a1*(z-t)**2 + a2*(z-t)**3 + a3*(z-t)**4'],
            'eps': ['a0 + a1*(z-t) + a2*(z-t)**2 + a3*(z-t)**3 + a4*(z-t)**4 + a5*(z-t)**5',
                    'a0*(z-t)**a1 + a2*(z-t)**3 + a3*(z-t)**2 + a4*(z-t)**4 + a5*(z-t)**6'],
        thresh_list_dict = {
            'um': [0.0, np.inf],
            'u2': [0.0, 12.5, np.inf],
            'v2': [0.0, 12.5, np.inf],
            'w2': [0.0, 12.5, np.inf],
            'w3': [0.0, 12.5, np.inf],
            'uw': [0.0, 12.5, np.inf],
            'eps': [0.0, 12.5, np.inf],
        weight_list_dict = {
            'um': [100, 1],
            'u2': [100, 5000, 1, 1],
            'v2': [100, 5000, 1, 1],
            'w2': [100, 5000, 1, 1],
            'w3': [100, 5000, 1, 1],
            'uw': [100, 5000, 1, 1],
            'eps': [100, 5000, 1, 1],
        wefact_list_dict = {
            'um': [0.2, 0.1],
            'u2': [0.2, 0.2, 0.1, 0.1],
            'v2': [0.2, 0.2, 0.1, 0.1],
            'w2': [0.2, 0.2, 0.1, 0.1],
            'w3': [0.2, 0.2, 0.1, 0.1],
            'uw': [0.2, 0.2, 0.1, 0.1],
            'eps': [0.2, 0.2, 0.1, 0.1],
    #elif name == 'SOMETHING ELSE': analog to above, omitted for brevity
        raise ValueError('Unsupported name, configure in config()')

    return (var_list, abl_height, infunc_list_dict, thresh_list_dict,
            weight_list_dict, wefact_list_dict, teston, saveon, printon)

def read_scm_data(name_str):
    """This routines reads in the profiles from the SCMs

    Input: # TODO (depends on their format), for now dummy data
    Output: dataframe: z, u2, v2, w2, w3, uw, um, eps
    # TODO: add actual read routine, this is just dummy input
    if name_str == 'tmp220':
        out = pd.read_csv('tmp220.csv', delimiter=',')
    #elif name_str == 'SOMETHING ELSE': as above, omitted for brevity
        raise ValueError('Unknown name, configure in read_scm_data()')
    return out

def test_fit(name, var_list, func_dict, data, saveon):
    """plot of data vs fitted functions
    # Omitted for brevity, not that relevant

def fit_func(var, abl_height, data_z, data_v, infunc_str_list,
            thresh_list, weight_list, wefact_list):
    """Converts the piecewise defined functions in infunc_str_list with the
    thresholds in thresh_list (and the weights defined by weight_list and
    wefact_list) to a SymPy expression and fits it to (data_z, data_v), where
    data_z is height and data_v are the values in each height. Returns the
    piecewise SymPy function with substituded parameters.
    z = symbols('z')
    y_list = []  # holds the subfunctions
    niterations = 20000
    # transition_value holds the value that is added to each sub-function
    # to ensure a continuous function. this is obviously 0 for the first
    # subfunction and equal to the value of the previous sub-function at the
    # threshold height for each subsequent sub-function.
    transition_value = 0

    # for each piece of the function:
    for i, func_str in enumerate(infunc_str_list):
        # find number of parameters and create those SymPy objects
        nparams = func_str.count('a')
        a = symbols('a0:%d' % nparams)
        t = symbols('t')  # transition height
        s = symbols('s')  # transition value
        zi = symbols('zi')  # boundary layer height

        # check the string and create the sympy expression
        verify_func_str(var, func_str)

        # add the transition value and substitute the placeholder variables:
        y_list[i] += transition_value
        y_list[i] = y_list[i].subs(t, thresh_list[i])
        y_list[i] = y_list[i].subs(s, transition_value)
        y_list[i] = y_list[i].subs(zi, abl_height)

        # lambdify the sympy-expression with a somewhat ugly hack:
        t = [z]
        for j in range(nparams):
        func = lambdify(tuple(t), y_list[i], modules=np)

        # create the correction subset of the data
        local_index = data_z > thresh_list[i] & data_z < thresh_list[i + 1]
        local_z = data_z[local_index]
        local_v = data_v[local_index]

        # create the weight arrays. they have the same size as the local_z and
        # are 1 everywhere except the range defined with wefact, where they
        # are the specified weight. see config() for definitions.
        weight = np.ones_like(local_z)
        z_range = local_z[-1] - local_z[0]
        lower_weight_lim = local_z[0] + wefact_list[2*i] * z_range
        upper_weight_lim = local_z[-1] - wefact_list[2*i + 1] * z_range
        weight[local_z < lower_weight_lim] = weight_list[2*i]
        weight[local_z > upper_weight_lim] = weight_list[2*i + 1]
        sigma = 1. / weight

        # fit the function to the data, checking for constant function aloft:
        if nparams > 0:
            popt, pcov = curve_fit(func, local_z, local_v, sigma=sigma,

        # substitute fitted parameters in sympy expression:
        for j in range(nparams):
            y_list[i] = y_list[i].subs(a[j], popt[j])

        # calculate the new transition_value:
        if nparams > 0:
            transition_value = func(thresh_list[i + 1], *popt)
            transition_value = func(thresh_list[i + 1])

    # After all sub-functions are fitted, combine them to a piecewise function.
    # This is a terrible hack, but I couldn't find out how to create piecewise
    # functions dynamically...
    if len(y_list) == 1:
        y = y_list[0]
    elif len(y_list) == 2:
        y = Piecewise((y_list[0], z <= thresh_list[1]),
                      (y_list[1], True))
    elif len(y_list) == 3:
        y = Piecewise((y_list[0], z <= thresh_list[1]),
                      (y_list[1], z <= thresh_list[2]),
                      (y_list[2], True))
    elif len(y_list) == 4:
        y = Piecewise((y_list[0], z <= thresh_list[1]),
                      (y_list[1], z <= thresh_list[2]),
                      (y_list[2], z <= thresh_list[3]),
                      (y_list[3], True))
    elif len(y_list) == 5:
        y = Piecewise((y_list[0], z <= thresh_list[1]),
                      (y_list[1], z <= thresh_list[2]),
                      (y_list[2], z <= thresh_list[3]),
                      (y_list[3], z <= thresh_list[4]),
                      (y_list[4], True))
        raise ValueError('More than five sub-functions not implemented yet')
    return y

def create_deriv(funcname, func):
    """Creates the derivative of the function, taking into account that v2 has
    two "derivatives".
    careful: returns tuple of two functions if funcname==v2, else one function
    z = symbols('z')
    if funcname != 'v2':
        return func.diff(z)
        deriv = func.diff(z)
        deriv_sig = sqrt(func).diff(z)
        return (deriv, deriv_sig)

def verify_input(name, infunc_list, thresh_list,
                weight_list, wefact_list):
    """rudimentary checks if the functions, weights and thresholds are faulty
    nfuncs = len(infunc_list)
    if len(thresh_list) != nfuncs + 1:
        raise ValueError('Number of functions and thresholds disagree for ' +
                        var + ' of ' + name)
    if len(weight_list) != nfuncs * 2:
        raise ValueError('Number of functions and weights disagree for ' +
                        var + ' of ' + name)
    if len(wefact_list) != nfuncs * 2:
        raise ValueError('Number of functions and weight factors disagree' +
                        ' for ' + var + ' of ' + name)

def verify_func_str(var, func_str):
    """Checks if the function string has linearly increasing parameters,
    starting with 0 (i.e. "a0, a1, a2..."), because otherwise there is only
    a cryptic error in minpack.
    index_list = []
    for c, char in enumerate(func_str):
        if char == 'a':
    if list(range(0, len(index_list))) != index_list:
        raise ValueError(func_str + ' has non-monotonically increasing' +
                        'parameter indices or does not start with a0' +
                        ' in variable ' + var)

def main(name, var_list, abl_height, infunc_list_dict, thresh_list_dict,
        weight_list_dict, wefact_list_dict, teston, saveon, printon):
    """Start routines, print output (if printon), save Fortran functions in a
    file and start testing (if teston)
    func_dict, deri_dict = {}, {}
    # file_str stores everything that is written to file in one string
    file_str = '!' + 78*'=' + '\n' + '!     ' + name + '\n!' + 78*'=' + '\n'
    if printon:
        print(' ' + 78*'_' + ' ')
        print('|' + 78*' ' + '|')
        print('|' + 30*' ' + name + (48-len(name))*' ' + '|')
        print('|' + 78*' ' + '|')
    data = read_scm_data(name)
    for var in var_list:
        verify_input(name, infunc_list_dict[var], thresh_list_dict[var],
                    weight_list_dict[var], wefact_list_dict[var])
        if printon:
            print('! ----- ' + var)
        file_str += '! ----- ' + var + '\n'
        # use data.z.values to get rid of the pandas-overhead and because
        # some stuff is apparently not possible otherwise (like data.z[-1])
        func_dict[var] = fit_func(var, abl_height, data.z.values,
                                data[var].values, infunc_list_dict[var],
                                thresh_list_dict[var], weight_list_dict[var],
        func_fstr = fcode(func_dict[var], source_format='free', assign_to=var,
        if printon:
        file_str += func_fstr + '\n'
        if var != 'v2':
            deri_dict[var] = create_deriv(var, func_dict[var])
            deri_fstr = fcode(deri_dict[var], source_format='free',
            if printon:
            file_str += deri_fstr + '\n\n'
            deri_dict[var], deri_dict['sigv'] = create_deriv(var,
            deri_fstr = fcode(deri_dict[var], source_format='free',
                            assign_to='d'+var, standard=95)
            deri2_fstr = fcode(deri_dict['sigv'], source_format='free',
                            assign_to='dsigv', standard=95)
            file_str += deri_fstr + '\n'
            file_str += deri2_fstr + '\n\n'
            if printon:
        if printon:
    if printon:
        print('|' + 78*'_' + '|\n')
    file_str = file_str + '\n\n'  # end with newlines
    if teston:
        test_fit(name, var_list, func_dict, data, saveon)

    # save fortran functions in file:
    filename = name + '_turbparas.inc'
    with open(filename, 'w') as f:

if __name__ == '__main__':
    name = 'tmpBUB'
    main(name, *config(name))

The head of the .csv being read:


The full (157 kB) file can be found at: Google Drive.

The code runs and does what I want, but I don't have any formal training in programming and I'm sure it could be improved. Speed is not a huge issue (really depends on how complicated the functions to be fit are), but reliability and adaptability are.

Some points I know are "wrong":

  • too many comments that explain what the code does (I like those, because I forget stuff)
  • the input strings for the base sub-functions are too long (>80) and lack spaces around *. It's a compromise.
  • if a height-range has less data points than the parameters of the corresponding subfunction, the code halts with a helpful minpack error message.

Some details I'd like to be different but also know to be impossible without changing sympy:

  • Fortran output with 4 instead of 3 spaces
  • Fortran output with 132 line length instead of 80.
  • A dynamic way to combine the pieces to one piecewise function to avoid those if conditions at the end of 'fit_func'. (maybe that is possible?)

1 Answer 1


Doesn't look too bad IMO, but there's definitely lots of duplication going on that could be made shorter. Most of the comments are great, though in some cases I'd recommend longer (not just single-letter) variable names! I know it's common in scientific code though.

Now, first thing, I'd restructure the main block such that it's easier to use interactively, e.g. have just main("tmp220") and let it figure out the configuration itself - if you still want the ability to override the variables, consider making them optional / use a dictionary or so.

Line 184 gives me an error because the grouping should be explicit - I don't know what options would change that or if it's a NumPy version issue, in any case I've added parenthesis so it reads:

local_index = (data_z > thresh_list[i]) & (data_z < thresh_list[i + 1])

Apropos variable names, it took me a moment to decipher teston etc., perhaps just at least an an underscore, or have a different name that makes the word boundaries clearer.

I'd make config return a dictionary, then the order of values doesn't matter anymore, it's more self-explanatory interactively and finally if you have a bunch of nested dictionaries it's also a bit more straightforward than repeating variable names all over again. E.g.:

def config(name):
    return {
        "tmp220": {
            "abl_height": 990,

Perhaps just move the configurations out into a constant though. If the test, save and print flags should be the same, have an update({"test_on": ..., ...}) call in there to add the settings.

Also a lot of the values in the configuration are the same - if they're not being modified, maybe reuse them?

For fit_func and main, I'd split things up more into separate functions for separate functionality, e.g:

    y_list.append(subs(sympify(func_str) + transition_value,
                       (t, thresh_list[i]),
                       (s, transition_value),
                       (zi, abl_height)))

with subs something like:

def subs(expression, *substitutions):
    for substitution in substitutions:
        expression = expression.subs(*substitution)
    return expression

The print_on flag, well actually, checking for that all over the place, I'd redirect standard output instead.

Buffering to a string and then writing to a file, why? It's probably not very harmful due to the length of the output, but still, the pattern isn't that useful (unless I missed some reason here).

Constants like 78, 30 and 48 are probably, you know, constant, but what if you decide to change the output formatting? I'd look for some helper library for that, or, failing that, create function for formatting that has these values as (default) parameters.

create_deriv could be slightly more compact:

def create_deriv(funcname, func):
    z = symbols('z')
    deriv = func.diff(z)
    if funcname != 'v2':
        return deriv
    return deriv, sqrt(func).diff(z)

Instead of appending the values using a range, simply extend the list (or concatenate the two in case the values allow for that):

t = [z]
# or perhaps
func = lambdify(tuple([z] + list(a)), y_list[i], modules=np)

The checks for nparams > 0 could be more compact (also pcov is unused; and in Python 2 consider using xrange where possible; in the following example I'd also take a look at zip/itertools.izip to make it look nicer), e.g.:

popt = ()
# fit the function to the data, checking for constant function aloft:
if nparams > 0:
    popt = curve_fit(func, local_z, local_v, sigma=sigma,

    # substitute fitted parameters in sympy expression:
    for j in xrange(nparams):
        y_list[i] = y_list[i].subs(a[j], popt[j])

# calculate the new transition_value:
transition_value = func(thresh_list[i + 1], *popt)

In general I'd probably make local variables out of things like y_list[i] if it's always the same thing you're manipulating, but that's just me.

For the Piecewise creation you can simply call the function with the list of arguments spliced in like you're already doing for config, e.g.:

if len(y_list) == 1:
    y = y_list[0]
    y = Piecewise(*[(y_j, z <= thresh_j_1)
                    for y_j, thresh_j_1
                    in zip(y_list, thresh_list[1:])]
                  + [(y_list[-1], True)])

If this is too unclear, split it up, or use a range again.

Hope that gives you some ideas around it.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for that detailed review, I've already implemented most of the changes. You asked "Buffering to a string and then writing to a file, why?": 1. Avoiding with around the whole main() function; 2. Habit from avoiding overhead from many file writes. In this case ridiculous, of course. Your subs function is not needed, because sympy's subs can already do that with a dictionary argument. I also used that later instead of looping over a and popt in y_list[i].subs. \$\endgroup\$
    – StefanS
    Apr 10, 2017 at 11:30
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "In general I'd probably make local variables out of things like y_list[i] if it's always the same thing[...]". How do you mean? If I set y_l = y_list[i] and then manipulate only y_l inside the loop, I'd also have to set y_list[i] = y_l back at the end of the loop. Sounds more complicated to me, not to mention the additional variable. \$\endgroup\$
    – StefanS
    Apr 10, 2017 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding file writing - the file object is very likely buffered already, so having another buffer with a string doesn't benefit you. In fact, but please go have a look at other articles for that, I'm pretty sure that concatenating lots of strings is creating more work than writing to a generic file object. Finally, the file object could be replaced more easily with another implementation of the same interface (that, e.g. is a string buffer or a network stream instead) which aids reusability. subs - didn't see it, that's good then. \$\endgroup\$
    – ferada
    Apr 10, 2017 at 11:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding y_l = y_list[i] - it's a list object. If you manipulate by adding elements to it, instead of creating new lists by + of course, the reference to it is still at y_list[i], so no, you don't need to assign it back. \$\endgroup\$
    – ferada
    Apr 10, 2017 at 11:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.