A primer on map projections in Python

Ok, so after my post a little while ago about converting contours to shapefiles, I spent a day adapting the approach for use in a in a dash-plotly app… and in general it works, and took a ~800 MB file down to a ~14 MB shapefile. But the rendering of the shapefile was still very slooooooow, and due to limitations of how data callbacks update a figure’s data in Dash, I couldn’t just render the background map once. So, after some thinking, I realized that if I “simply” calculated my own map projections, I could use the standard x-y plotting routines (which includes contours, as well as the faster scattergl method for plotting a large number of points).

But then I realized that I only vaguely know what map projections are: I knew different projections vary in how they portray the 3D earth on a 2D surface, but when you start using all the mapping libraries out there, you run into a lot of jargon really fast. So here’s a super basic primer on calculation map projections in Python that explains some of that jargon!

Also, this is the first post I decided to write as a Python notebook. The notebook is in my github learning_shapefiles repo, but github has been having some issues displaying notebooks lately, so you can view the full notebook here.

PyProj

To start off, pyproj (link), is a python library based on the command-line library https://proj.org/ that provides a large number of algorithms related to map projections. So go install that (simple to do with pip or conda).

In order to use pyproj to project a lat/lon point onto a map projection, it’s helpful to know a few acronyms:

  • CRS: coordinate reference system
  • EPSG: a database of coordinate reference systems and transformations, different projections covering different regional or local (or global) domains are specified by the number following EPSG. For example, EPSG:4326 is the global reference ellipse used by modern day GPS.
  • WGS84 : World Geodetic System, latest revision, a.k.a. WGS1984, same as EPSG:4326
  • reference ellipse: an ellipse describing the surface of the Earth on which positions (like latitude and longitude) are defined. GPS points use a reference ellipse that approximates the Earth’s geoid (i.e., the gravitational equipotential surface that sea-level would follow if due to gravity alone, see wiki).

So now that’s out of the way…. to project a single lat/lon point with Pyproj, first import pyproj then initialize a projection (Proj) object:

from pyproj import Proj
p=Proj(proj='hammer',ellps='WGS84')

When initializing the Proj (projection) object, you give it the reference ellipse that your lat/lon is defined on, ellps=‘WGS84’, and the projection you want to transform to, in this case a hammer projection. Once you’ve initialized Proj, you can use it to move from lat/lon to cartesian x,y:

lon=-120.5 
lat=42.4
x,y=p(lon,lat)

This lon/lat point become (x,y)=(-9894366.0792,5203184.81636). These values in meters by default and are the cartesian x-y distance from the map center for your point.

The Proj object is flexible enough to take lists (and numpy arrays!), so you can project many points at once. It can also take any of the parameters defined for the PROJ projections as keyword arguments. For example, the Hammer projection, has an argument ‘+lon_0’ to set the 0-longitude for the view, and so in pyProj you can use ‘lon_0’ as a keyword argument when using the hammer projection:

p = Proj(proj='hammer',ellps='WGS84',lon_0=-50)

The rest of the notebook goes through how you could construct a grid of lat/lon lines and plot them for different projections. And at the end, I take a digital elevation model of the western US (which gives an elevation for lat/lon points), project the lat/lon points onto a hammer projection  to get points of (elevation,x,y) and contour it using the standard matplotlib.pyplot.contourf to get the following:

In my particular application, I’ll now be able to project my data to x,y and then use the cartesian contour functions of dash-plotly! The main drawback of this approach is having to write all the routines for handling rotations and plotting lines on maps… but ultimately I think it will work well with Dash, and it will be nice to be able use scattergl with my map point data.

 

Shapefiles in Python: converting contours to shapes

I’m in the process of finishing up a web-app that I’ve written using Dash/Plotly and as someone who is not an expert in front end web development, I’ve really enjoyed how easy it is to build an interactive app without getting bogged down by all the javascript/html/css (though knowing some definitely helps!). But recently I’ve run into an issue while figuring how to plot various datasets as a background contour on a number of interactive maps: while Dash/Plotly is great at plotting interactive points on a map, there’s not a simple way to contour a dataset and use it as the base layer (there is the new scattermapbox class, but there is not yet a simple contouring method for maps like, for example, contourf in the basemap library).

But Dash/Plotly is very good at chloropleth (colored shapes) plots, so I figured that if I could convert a matplotlib.pyplot.contourf plot into a shapefile of polygons, I could then load that shapefile in Dash/Plotly as needed and plot it as a chloropleth plot, which seems easier to me than rendering a bitmap image of the contour plot in the background (the only other option I can think of)… and so I spent the morning experimenting with how to do this. There’s a few scattered stackoverflow questions that related to this, but I had to pull together a bunch of pieces to get this working,  so I figured a short writeup here might be useful to others out there.

So with that said, here are they python libraries that you’ll need to run my test script:

  • shapely (for polygons, used previously here, here and here)
  • fiona (for writing a shapefile)
  • descartes (for making some plots)
  • matplotlib (for the initial contouring of the data)
  • numpy (for making up some initial data and some array manipulation)

The full code is available in my learning_shapefiles repo and the new script is contourf_to_shp.py. And some useful stackoverflow answers that helped significantly: Converting Matplotlib contour objects to Shapely objects, matplotlib – extracting values from contour lines.

Creating data to contour 

To start off, I wanted to work with a small test data set that would include multiple domains at the same contour level, so I created a lat/lon grid and then superimposed two 2d gaussian curves with different amplitudes and decay rates and plotted those up:

from shapely import geometry
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
from matplotlib import cm
import numpy as np
import fiona
import os,json
from descartes.patch import PolygonPatch

# create some test data with multiple peaks
lon = np.linspace(0,45,100)
lat = np.linspace(-20,32,90)
long,latg=np.meshgrid(lon,lat)
C1=np.sqrt((long-5.)**2+(latg-25)**2)/30.
C2=np.sqrt((long-30.)**2+(latg-1)**2)/10.
m = 30*np.exp(-C1**2)+20.*np.exp(-C2**2)

# make the contourf plot, storing the resulting ContourSet in cs
plt.figure(figsize=[10,5])
plt.subplot(1,2,1)
Nlevels=10
cs = plt.contourf(lon,lat,m,Nlevels,cmap='gist_heat')
plt.title('contourf figure with Nlevels='+str(Nlevels))

In my actual use-case I’ll be loading a 2D dataset, so most of this will be replaced. But the important bit is that I store the object that results from the contourf call, that cs object contains all the data on the contours.

Storing the contour results

The first step in saving the contoured data is to create a lookup table for the contour levels. The cs object stores each contour in cs.collections and the levels in cs.levels:

# create lookup table for levels
lvl_lookup = dict(zip(cs.collections, cs.levels))

Next, I loop over each contour of cs.collections, convert the contour’s shape into a shapely polygon and store it in a list of dictionaries that also saves that contour’s level value:

# loop over collections (and polygons in each collection), store in list for fiona
PolyList=[]
for col in cs.collections:
    z=lvl_lookup[col] # the value of this level
    for contour_path in col.get_paths():
        # create the polygon for this level
        for ncp,cp in enumerate(contour_path.to_polygons()):
            lons = cp[:,0]
            lats = cp[:,1]
            new_shape = geometry.Polygon([(i[0], i[1]) for i in zip(lons,lats)])
            if ncp == 0:                
                poly = new_shape # first shape
            else:
                poly = poly.difference(new_shape) # Remove the holes
            
            PolyList.append({'poly':poly,'props':{'z': z}})

The list PolyList now holds a shapely polygon as well as the z-value (or level) of that polygon.

Writing the data

In order to use these polygons elsewhere, the easiest thing to do is simply save them within a shapefile. I used the Fiona library for writing, which entails writing the geometry (the polygons) and the properties for each polygon that I stored earlier:

# define ESRI schema, write each polygon to the file
outfi=os.path.join(outname,'shaped_contour.shp')
schema = {'geometry': 'Polygon','properties': {'z': 'float'}}
with fiona.collection(outfi, "w", "ESRI Shapefile", schema) as output:
    for p in PolyList:
        output.write({'properties': p['props'],
            'geometry': geometry.mapping(p['poly'])})

In order to reconstruct the contour plot, I need to save the information about the different levels (to get the colormap correct). And while I could load the shapefile and loop over the shapes to calculate min/max values, it saves time to simply write that data to a different file. And rather than write it as metadata of some kind for the shapefile, I just drop it into a json file:

# save the levels and global min/max as a separate json for convenience
Lvls={'levels':cs.levels.tolist(),'min':m.min(),'max':m.max()}
with open(os.path.join(outname,'levels.json'), 'w') as fp:
    json.dump(Lvls, fp)

Plotting the polygons

From there, the shapefile and levels data can be re-loaded and plotted to get the following:

polygon_conts_N10On the left is the original contour plot, on the write is the plot of Polygon patches colored using the same colormap. And it’s an almost perfect replica… I’m not sure if it’s my eyes or screen, but the lightest colors seem just a hair different between the two. But that difference is even less noticeable as I use more contours, e.g. 1000: 

polygon_conts_N1000

The final bit of code is mostly self explanatory: looping over the shapes in the shapefile, then plotting colored polygon patches like in previous posts. The only tricky business is making sure the polygon facecolor matches the filled contour color. To do this, I load in the contour level json file that I saved off, and load the matplotlib colormap that I used in the initial call to contourf:

# read in levels, define colormap
with open(os.path.join(outname,'levels.json')) as jfile:
    Lvls=json.load(jfile)
levels=np.array(Lvls['levels'])
cmap=plt.cm.gist_heat
lv_range=[Lvls['min'],Lvls['max']]

And then for each polygon, I pull out the z-value that I saved and find the appropriate RGB value for that level with:

        lv=shp['properties']['z'] # this shape's level
        clr=cmap((lv - lv_range[0])/(lv_range[1]-lv_range[0]))

The bit of math with lv_range is ensure that the value is between 0 and 1. The clr variable is a tuple that can be given to the descartes PolygonPatch:

patch = PolygonPatch(poly, facecolor=clr, edgecolor=clr)

And that’s pretty much it. I still have some experimenting to do with how many contour levels I need for the datasets I’m working with, and I expect to run into some scaling issues (the full dataset fields I’m working with are 100s of MB), but at least I have a feasible approach!

Full code here.

merging shapes and plotting the physiographic boundary of the Colorado Plateau

Today I found myself needing to plot the physiographic boundary of the Colorado Plateau in Python. It’s been a while since I’ve touched on shapefiles (or anything on the blog) so I figured I’d write a quick blurb on reading and plotting this particular shapefile.

Data: shapefile of data from  Fenneman and Johnson 1946 [1] available at https://water.usgs.gov/GIS/dsdl/physio_shp.zip

Code to load & plot & write processed data: colorado_plateau.py

Python requirements: pyshp, shapely, matplotlib

What you’ll learn: reading shapefiles, merging polygon shapes in Python with shapely

The Data

The first challenge was finding the actual lat/lon coordinates defining the edge of the Colorado Plateau… it’s amazing how many papers in geology/geophysics plot the boundary but don’t actually reference where the heck they got their coordinates from. After much digging I FINALLY found a paper that actually cited their source: Hopper and Fischer 2018 [2] reference a 1946 publication by Fenneman and Johnson [1] titled “Physiographic divisions of the conterminous U. S.” and after a quick search I found the digitized data from that publication online at water.usgs.gov.

Here’s the summary page containing metadata: https://water.usgs.gov/GIS/metadata/usgswrd/XML/physio.xml

and a direct link to the zipped shapefile:  https://water.usgs.gov/GIS/dsdl/physio_shp.zip.

The dataset contains a large number of physiographic regions and the Colorado Plateau is subdivided into multiple regions, so the code below pulls out the regions within the Colorado Plateau and joins them into a single shape defining the full boundary. To run the code below, unpack physio_shp.zip wherever you downloaded it to and rename the folder to physio (to match expectations for the pyshp shapefile reader).

The Code

The full code is here.

The XML data for the shapefile defines a province code for different provinces, for which the Colorado Plateau sub-regions have a value of 21. So the code (1) reads the shapefiles, (2) finds the shapes with a province code of 21 and (3) combines them.

Step 1:  imports, reading arguments, reading the shapefile.

shapefile is the library for pyshp, otherwise pretty self explanatory:

import shapefile, os,sys
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
from shapely.geometry import Polygon
from shapely.ops import cascaded_union

# read the arguments
fname=sys.argv[1] # path to physio.shp
outfolder=None
if len(sys.argv)>2:
    outfolder=sys.argv[2] # folder to store output

# read the shapefile
sf = shapefile.Reader(fname)

Step 2: Find the Colorado Plateau shapes.

The shapes are described in the records list of the shapefile object:

sf.records()

records() is a list of attributes for each shape and a single record looks like

[3.886, 9.904, 220, 15, 212, '21b', 'INTERMONTANE PLATEAUS', 'COLORADO PLATEAUS', 'UINTA BASIN', 21]

The final value is the province code — so we just need to save off the indeces for which that value is 21. It turns out the 3rd value in the record list is actually a cross-reference to a shape ID, but for some reason the indexing is offset by 2 when reading this shapefile with python. So the shape data for this shape would be accessed with:

sf.shapes()[218]

rather than 220. Not sure why it’s off by 2 (would expect it to be off by 1 due to python indexing), but in any case, my code simply records the list index as python sees it:

# find the record indeces for colorado plateau (province ID = 21)
i_rec=0
recs_to_plot=[]
for rec in sf.records():
    if rec[-1]==21:
        print(rec)
        print(i_rec)
        recs_to_plot.append(i_rec)
    i_rec=i_rec+1

# plot the individual records
plt.subplot(1,2,1)
for rec in recs_to_plot:
    pts=sf.shapes()[rec].points
    lons=[pt[0] for pt in pts]
    lats=[pt[1] for pt in pts]
    plt.plot(lons,lats,'.k')

As seen above — the coordinates for the shape boundaries for a record are in

sf.shapes()[rec].points

which is a list of longitude and latitude points (which the code unpacks for plotting). This section of code will generate the following outline of the Colorado Plateau regions:

Step 3: merging shapes

This is the fun bit! What we want is just the outer boundary of the union of all the shapes. The python library shapely lets us do this very easily by creating a list of shapely Polygon objects then combining them with the cascaded_union method:

# create a single shape for Colorado Plateau from union of sub-shapes
polies=[]
for rec in recs_to_plot:
    polies.append(Polygon(sf.shapes()[rec].points))
CP_bound=cascaded_union(polies)

# plot the exterior shape
lon,lat = CP_bound.exterior.xy
plt.subplot(1,2,2)
plt.plot(lon,lat,'.k')

and the resulting plot of just the exterior boundary:

Step 4: output the processed data 

The code also exports the lat/lon points defining that exterior boundary with:

# export the final shape as a CSV of boundary points
if outfolder is not None:
    f=open(os.path.join(outfolder,'ColoradoPlateauBoundary.csv'),'w')
    f.write("lon,lat\n")
    for i,j in zip(lon,lat):
        f.write(str(i)+","+str(j)+"\n")
    f.close()

I could have written some code to save the data in a shapefile format, but for such a small amount of data I find it easier to save a CSV and just create a Polygon from the list of points as I need it. I’m actually planning to create a Polygon that will be combined with GeoPandas to find sets of points falling within the plateau (GeoPandas lets you do database joins on geospatial data, it’s awesome!).

Running the Code

To run the code:

python colorado_plateau.py /path/to/physio/physio.shp /folder/for/output/

where the first argument is the path to the downloaded and unpacked shapefile and the second argument is the location to save the CSV file (this argument is optional — no data will be saved if not included).

References

[1] Fenneman, N. M., & Johnson, D. W. (1946). Physiographic
divisions of the conterminous U.S. Reston, VA: US Geological Survey,
Physiographic Committee Special Map. https://water.usgs.gov/GIS/metadata/usgswrd/XML/physio.xml

[2] Hopper, E., & Fischer, K. M. (2018), The changing face of the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary: Imaging continental scale patterns in upper mantle structure across the contiguous U.S. with Sp converted waves. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 19 , 2 593 – 2 614 . https://doi.org/10. 1029/2018GC007476

A Python tool for inspecting shapefiles

In my recent coding exploits, I’ve downloaded lots of different shapefiles. Most shapefiles were accompanied by nice .xml documenation with information about the data and how its stored or labeled, but a few had hardly any information at all. I knew the general content based on the description from the website were I downloaded the shapefile, but I didn’t know what they had used for the record labels and I didn’t know what the record values were exactly. So the past couple days I sat down and wrote a bit of code to help in unraveling a myserious shapefile…

Check out (and/or download) the full Python source here: shapefile inspection!

The program is fairly straightforward. It traverses the records of a shapefile, recording the record label (or “field names” as I refer to them in the source) and information about each record. One of the program’s methods uses the Python XML API called ElementTree to  produce an xml file that you can load in a browser. Here’s a screen shot from using Firefox to view the xml file produced when running the program on the Open Street Map shapefile that I extracted via MapZen for my previous post.

xml_sample_1

In a browser, you can shrink or expand the xml attributes to get some basic information about each record: the name or label of the records, the data type and some sort of sample of the data. If the record data is an integer or float, then the sample will be the min/max values of the record while if it’s a string, it will either be a list of the unique strings in the records or just a sample of some of the strings. The OpenStreetMap shapefile contained some record values that were keywords, like the “highway” attribute in the screen shot above. While other records were strings with unique values for each shape, like the “name” attribute below:

xml_sample_2

In addition to generating an xml file, the program allows you to interactively explore a field.

When you run the program from command line (type in python inspect_shapefile.py in the src directory), it’ll ask for your input. It first asks if you want to give it a shapefile, here I said no and used the shapefile hardwired into __main__ of inspect_shapefile.py:

Do you want to enter the path to a shapefile? (Y/N) N
 
Using shapefile specified in __main__ :
directory: ../../learning_shapefiles/shapefiles/denver_maps/grouped_by_geometry_type/
filename: ex_QMDJXT8DzmqNh6eFiNkAuESyDNCX_osm_line

 Loading shapefile ...
... shapefile loaded! 

It then pulls out all the fields in the shapefile records, displays them and asks what you want to do. This is what it looks like using the OpenStreetMaps shapefile:

Shapefile has the following field names
['osm_id', 'access', 'aerialway', 'aeroway', 'amenity', 'area', 'barrier', 'bicycle', 
'brand', 'bridge', 'boundary', 'building', 'covered', 'culvert', 'cutting', 'disused', 
'embankment', 'foot', 'harbour', 'highway', 'historic', 'horse', 'junction', 'landuse', 
'layer', 'leisure', 'lock', 'man_made', 'military', 'motorcar', 'name', 'natural', 
'oneway', 'operator', 'population', 'power', 'place', 'railway', 'ref', 'religion', 
'route', 'service', 'shop', 'sport', 'surface', 'toll', 'tourism', 'tower:type', 
'tracktype', 'tunnel', 'water', 'waterway', 'wetland', 'width', 'wood', 'z_order', 
'way_area', 'tags'] 

Do you want to investigate single field (single)? Generate xml 
file (xml)? Or both (both)? single

Enter field name to investigate: landuse

So you can see all these different fields. I chose to look at a single field (“landuse”) and the program will then look at the “landuse” record value for each shape, record its data type and save new record values:

searching for non-empty entry for landuse ...
data type found: str
Finding unique record values for landuse
1 of 212550 shapes ( 0.0 % )
 new record value: 
93 of 212550 shapes ( 0.04 % )
 new record value: reservoir
6782 of 212550 shapes ( 3.19 % )
 new record value: residential
110432 of 212550 shapes ( 51.95 % )
 new record value: grass
111094 of 212550 shapes ( 52.26 % )
 new record value: construction
Completed field name inspection 

---------------------------------------
Shapefile has the following field names
['osm_id', 'access', 'aerialway', 'aeroway', 'amenity', 'area', 
'barrier', 'bicycle', 'brand', 'bridge', 'boundary', 'building', 
'covered', 'culvert', 'cutting', 'disused', 'embankment', 'foot', 
'harbour', 'highway', 'historic', 'horse', 'junction', 'landuse', 
'layer', 'leisure', 'lock', 'man_made', 'military', 'motorcar', 
'name', 'natural', 'oneway', 'operator', 'population', 'power', 
'place', 'railway', 'ref', 'religion', 'route', 'service', 'shop', 
'sport', 'surface', 'toll', 'tourism', 'tower:type', 'tracktype', 
'tunnel', 'water', 'waterway', 'wetland', 'width', 'wood', 'z_order', 
'way_area', 'tags']

The field name landuse is str
and has 5 unique values
Display Values? (Y/N) Y
 possible values:
['', 'reservoir', 'residential', 'grass', 'construction']

As you can see from the output, there were 4 keywords (reservoir, residential, grass and construction) used to describe the ‘landuse’ field. So I could now write some code to go into a shapefile and extract only the shapes that have a ‘residential’ value for ‘landuse.’ But I couldn’t do that until I (1) knew that the landuse field existed and (2) knew the different definitions for landuse type.

So there it is! That’s the program. Hopefully all the shapefiles you ever download will be well-documented. But if you find one that’s not and you really need to figure it out, this little tool might help!

Some code notes and tips

The xml file that I create didn’t follow any particular standard or convention, just what I thought might be useful. Perhaps that could be improved?

REMEMBER THAT IN PYTHON, YOU NEED TO EXPLICITLY COPY LISTS! I stupidly forgot that when you make a list

list_a = list()
list_a.append('blah')
list_a.append('d')

And then want to make a copy of the list, if you do this:

list_b = list_a

Then any changes to list_b will change list_a. But if you do

list_b = list_a[:]

You’ll get a new copy that won’t reference back to list_a. This is probably one of the things that I forget most frequently with Python lists. Palm-smack-to-forehead. 

The XML API ElementTree was pretty great to work with. You can very easily define a hierarchy that will produce a nice xml tree (see this example). I did, however, have some trouble parsing the direct output from the type() function. When you calculate a type,

type(0.01)

you get this:

<type 'float'>

When I gave it directly to ElementTree (imported as ET here), like this:

ET.SubElement(attr, "attrtype",name="data type").text = type(0.01)

I would get some errors because of the quotation marks enclosed. To get around this, I converted the type output to a string, split it up by the quotes and took the index that would just be the type (int, str, or float):

ET.SubElement(attr, "attrtype",name="data type").text = str(type(0.01)).split("'")[1]

Mapping some things!

Since publishing my series of posts on manipulating shapefiles in Python (1, 2 and 3), I’ve been exploring different open data catalogs so I thought I’d share some of the maps I’ve mapped! All these were produced using scripts in my learning_shapefiles repository on GitHub (see denver_stack.py and denver_tree_canopy.py).

Downtown Denver

denver_downtown

MapZen is a pretty sweet service! You can draw a regional box then the folks at MapZen will take that box and extract all the OpenStreetMap data within the box then give you the shapefiles with all that info. First thing I (stupidly) did after downloading my data extraction from MapZen was to just plot all of the shapes… and I then proceeded to sit around for quite some time while my laptop chugged away and produced a highly detailed map of all the things in Denver County. I zoomed in to downtown Denver for the above image to show off the detail.

Metro-Denver

denver_road_rivers

A more abstract representation of the primary roadways in metro Denver. I figured out how the MapZen/OpenStreetMap shapefile was organized and only plotted motorways, primary and secondary roads (bright white in the map). I also created a grid containing the shortest distance to a roadway (using  the distance method available for shapely.geometry.LineString) and contoured the inverse distance (1/x) to evoke the topographic contours along rivers.

Tree Cover in Denver County

denver_1

Denver’s Open Data Catalog has a bunch of databases with shapefiles galore. I downloaded one for the Tree Canopy and then plotted up the percent tree cover in each geometry. This is what actually lead me to learn how to plot roadways… and here I overlaid the tree cover on the same MapZen extraction of OpenStreeMap data. Along with the roadways underneath, it forms a sort of abstract tree.

So that’s it for today. Three maps from a couple different open data sources using some inefficient Python. Not going to go into detail on the code this time, because, well, it’s slooow. I’m using modifications of the simple scripts that I used in my shapefile tutorials because I was excited to just plot things! But there are much better ways to handle shapefiles with hundreds of thousands of geometries. So until next time (after I figure out how to use fiona or geopandas), just enjoy the visuals!

Shapely Polygons: Coloring Shapefile Polygons

In my previous two posts, I showed how to (1) read and plot shapefile geometries using the pyshp library and (2) plot polygons using shapely and descartes. So the obvious next step is to combine the two! And that’s what I’ll cover today, again using my learning_shapefiles github repo along with the shapefile of state boundaries from census.gov.

The Final Map

In case you don’t care about the Python and are just curious about the end product, here’s the final map where the color of each state reflects its total land area:

shapefile_us_colored_by_area_sat

It’s kind of neat to see the gradient of state size from east to west, reflecting the historical expansion of the U.S. westward, but other than that, there’s not much to the map. But it does serve as a simple case for learning to manipulate shapefiles.

The Code

There are two scripts in learning_shapefiles/src of relevance for today’s post: basic_readshp_plotpoly.py and read_shp_and_rcrd.py. The first script is a simple combination of basic_read_plot.py and simple_polygons.py (from my previous two posts), plotting the shapefile geometries using polygons instead of lines, so let’s start there.

basic_readshp_plotpoly.py

The code starts out the same as basic_read_plot.py, but now also imports Polygon and PolygonPatch from shapely and descartes, before reading in the shapefile:

import shapefile
import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
from shapely.geometry import Polygon
from descartes.patch import PolygonPatch

"""
 IMPORT THE SHAPEFILE 
"""
shp_file_base='cb_2015_us_state_20m'
dat_dir='../shapefiles/'+shp_file_base +'/'
sf = shapefile.Reader(dat_dir+shp_file_base)

The next part of the code plots a single geometry from the shapefile. This is super easy because shapefile.Reader reads a shapefile geometry as a list of points, which is exactly what the Polygon function needs. So we can just give that list of points directly to the Polygon function:

plt.figure()
ax = plt.axes()
ax.set_aspect('equal')

shape_ex = sf.shape(5) # could break if selected shape has multiple polygons. 

# build the polygon from exterior points
polygon = Polygon(shape_ex.points)
patch = PolygonPatch(polygon, facecolor=[0,0,0.5], edgecolor=[0,0,0], alpha=0.7, zorder=2)
ax.add_patch(patch)

# use bbox (bounding box) to set plot limits
plt.xlim(shape_ex.bbox[0],shape_ex.bbox[2])
plt.ylim(shape_ex.bbox[1],shape_ex.bbox[3])

And we get Washington, now as a colored polygon rather than an outline:

shapefile_single

Woo!

And as before, we can now loop over each shape (and each part of each shape), construct a polygon and plot it:

""" PLOTS ALL SHAPES AND PARTS """
plt.figure()
ax = plt.axes() # add the axes
ax.set_aspect('equal')

icolor = 1
for shape in list(sf.iterShapes()):

    # define polygon fill color (facecolor) RGB values:
    R = (float(icolor)-1.0)/52.0
    G = 0
    B = 0

    # check number of parts (could use MultiPolygon class of shapely?)
    nparts = len(shape.parts) # total parts
    if nparts == 1:
       polygon = Polygon(shape.points)
       patch = PolygonPatch(polygon, facecolor=[R,G,B], alpha=1.0, zorder=2)
       ax.add_patch(patch)

    else: # loop over parts of each shape, plot separately
      for ip in range(nparts): # loop over parts, plot separately
          i0=shape.parts[ip]
          if ip < nparts-1:
             i1 = shape.parts[ip+1]-1
          else:
             i1 = len(shape.points)

          polygon = Polygon(shape.points[i0:i1+1])
          patch = PolygonPatch(polygon, facecolor=[R,G,B], alpha=1.0, zorder=2)
          ax.add_patch(patch)

    icolor = icolor + 1

plt.xlim(-130,-60)
plt.ylim(23,50)
plt.show()

In order to distinguish each polygon, I set each shape’s color based on how many shapes have already been plotted:

R = (float(icolor)-1.0)/52.0

This grades the red scale in an RGB tuple between 0 and 1 (since there are 52 shapes), and it is then used in the facecolor argument of PolygonPatch. The coloring is simply a function of the order in which the shapes are accessed:

shapefile_us

The goal, however, is to color each polygon by some sort of data so that we can actually learn something interesting, and that is exactly what read_shp_and_rcrd.py does.

read_shp_and_rcrd.py

Up to now, we’ve only considered the shape geometry, but that is only one part of a shapefile. Also included in most shapefiles are the records, or the data, associated with each shape. When a shapefile is imported,

shp_file_base='cb_2015_us_state_20m'
dat_dir='../shapefiles/'+shp_file_base +'/'
sf = shapefile.Reader(dat_dir+shp_file_base)

The resulting shapefile object (sf in this case) contains records associated with each shape. I wasn’t sure what fields were included for the State Boundary shapefile from census.gov, so I opened up a Python shell in terminal, read in the shapefile then typed

>>> sf.fields

to get a list of available fields:

[('DeletionFlag', 'C', 1, 0), ['STATEFP', 'C', 2, 0], ['STATENS', 'C', 8, 0], ['AFFGEOID', 'C', 11, 0], ['GEOID', 'C', 2, 0], ['STUSPS', 'C', 2, 0], ['NAME', 'C', 100, 0], ['LSAD', 'C', 2, 0], ['ALAND', 'N', 14, 0], ['AWATER', 'N', 14, 0]]

Down towards the end, there’s an interesting entry

['ALAND', 'N', 14, 0]

Though I couldn’t find any documentation on the included fields, I suspected ALAND stood for land area (especially since it was followed by AWATER). So in read_shp_and_rcrd.py, the first thing I do is extract the field names and find the index corresponding the the land area:

""" Find max/min of record of interest (for scaling the facecolor)"""

# get list of field names, pull out appropriate index
# fieldnames of interest: ALAND, AWATER are land and water area, respectively
fld = sf.fields[1:]
field_names = [field[0] for field in fld]
fld_name='ALAND'
fld_ndx=field_names.index(fld_name)

I found this post helpful for extracting the fieldnames of each record.

Next, I loop over the records using the interRecords() object to find the minimum and maximum land area in order to scale the polygon colors:

# loop over records, track global min/max
maxrec=-9999
minrec=1e21
for rec in sf.iterRecords():
    if rec[4] != 'AK': # exclude alaska so the scale isn't skewed
       maxrec=np.max((maxrec,rec[fld_ndx]))
       minrec=np.min((minrec,rec[fld_ndx]))

maxrec=maxrec/1.0 # upper saturation limit

print fld_name,'min:',minrec,'max:',maxrec

I excluded Alaska (if rec[4] != ‘AK’:) so that the color scale wouldn’t be thrown off, and then I also scale the maximum (maxrec=maxrec/1.0) to adjust the color scale manually (more on this later).

Now that I know the max/min, I loop over each shape and (1) calculate the RGB value for each polygon using a linear scale between the max and min and then (2) plot a polygon for each shape (and all the parts of a shape) using that RGB value:

for shapeRec in sf.iterShapeRecords():
    # pull out shape geometry and records 
    shape=shapeRec.shape
    rec = shapeRec.record

    # select polygon facecolor RGB vals based on record value
    if rec[4] != 'AK':
         R = 1
         G = (rec[fld_ndx]-minrec)/(maxrec-minrec)
         G = G * (G<=1) + 1.0 * (G>1.0)
         B = 0
    else:
         R = 0
         B = 0
         G = 0

    # check number of parts (could use MultiPolygon class of shapely?)
    nparts = len(shape.parts) # total parts
    if nparts == 1:
       polygon = Polygon(shape.points)
       patch = PolygonPatch(polygon, facecolor=[R,G,B], edgecolor=[0,0,0], alpha=1.0, zorder=2)
       ax.add_patch(patch)
    else: # loop over parts of each shape, plot separately
       for ip in range(nparts): # loop over parts, plot separately
           i0=shape.parts[ip]
           if ip < nparts-1:
              i1 = shape.parts[ip+1]-1
           else:
              i1 = len(shape.points)

          # build the polygon and add it to plot 
          polygon = Polygon(shape.points[i0:i1+1])
          patch = PolygonPatch(polygon, facecolor=[R,G,B], alpha=1.0, zorder=2)
          ax.add_patch(patch)

plt.xlim(-130,-60)
plt.ylim(23,50)
plt.show()

One import thing not to miss is that on the first line, I loop over the iterShapeRecords iterable rather than using iterShapes. This is neccesary so that I have access to both shape geometry and the associated records, rather than just the shapes (iterShapes) or just the records (iterRecords).

Running the above code will produce the following map:

shapefile_us_colored_by_area

Because Texas is so much larger than the rest of the states, we don’t see much of a difference between the states. But we can adjust this by decreasing the max value using in the scaling. So after finding the max/min value, I set

maxrec=maxrec/2.0 # upper saturation limit

and end up with the following map that brings out more of the variation in the states’ land area (same map as in the very beginning of this post):

shapefile_us_colored_by_area_sat

Note that because I’m decreased the maxvalue for scaling, I had to ensure that the RGB value did not exceed 1, which is why I had the following lines limiting the green value (G):

    if rec[4] != 'AK':
         R = 1
         G = (rec[fld_ndx]-minrec)/(maxrec-minrec)
         G = G * (G<=1) + 1.0 * (G>1.0)

So that’s about it! That’s how you can read in a shapefile and plot polygons of each shape colored by some data (record) associated with each shape. There are plenty of more sophisticated ways to do this exercise, and I’ll be looking into some other shapefile Python libraries for upcoming posts.

Shapefiles in Python: a super basic tutorial

I recently started a couple of projects that will involve using shapefiles and I got frustrated real fast. Many tutorials that I found assumed some previous knowledge of either shapefiles or the python libraries used to manipulate them. But what I wanted was a tutorial that helped me to plot a simple shapefile while getting to know what a shapefile actually is!

So here’s a SUPER simple example of how to load, inspect and plot a shapefile to make a map of the U.S! There are quite a few Python libraries dealing with shapefiles and it was hard to find the easiest place to start. I found the pyshp Python library the most approachable, so that’s what I use in the following example. There are many ways to visualize shapefiles in a more automated way than I do here, but I think that my approach here gives a clearer picture to a beginner of what a shapefile is and how to use Python with shapefiles.

The shapefile

Go get yourself a shapefile! The one I used (which will definitely work with my code below) is the lowest resolution state-level cartographic boundary shapefile from census.gov (link to census.gov, direct link to lowest resolution 20m .zip file). Once you download the .zip file, unpack it and take a look inside. A shapefile is actually a collection of different files, including a .shp file containing information on shape geometry (state boundaries in this case), a .dbf file containing attributes of each shape (like the name of each state) and others (check out the wiki page on shapefiles for a description of the other file extensions).

The code!

You can download my Python code: https://github.com/chrishavlin/learning_shapefiles

At present, the src folder includes only one python script: basic_read_plot.py. To run this script you will need to:

  1. install the pyshp Python library  (and numpy and matplotlib if you don’t have them already)
  2. edit the variables in the source code describing the path to the shapefile (dat_dir and shp_file_base in src/basic_read_plot.py)

After those two steps, just open up a terminal and run the script (assuming you’re in the src directory):

$ python basic_read_plot.py

The three plots described below should pop up.

So what does the code do? 

After the initial comment block and library import, the code reads in the shapefile using the string variables that give the location of the shapefile directory (data_dir) and the name of the shapefile without extension (shp_file_base):

sf = shapefile.Reader(dat_dir+shp_file_base)

This creates a shapefile object, sf, and the next few lines do some basic inspections of that object. To check how many shapes have been imported:

print 'number of shapes imported:',len(sf.shapes())

For the census.gov state boundary shapefile, this returns 52 for the 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

For each shape (or state), there are a number of attributes defined: bbox, parts, points and shapeType. The pyshp documentation describes each, and I’ll touch on each one in the following (except for shapeType).

The first thing I wanted to do after importing the shapefile was just plot a single state. So I first pull out the information for a single shape (in this case, the 5th shape):

shape_ex = sf.shape(5)

The points attribute contains a list of latitude-longitude values that define the shape (state) boundary. So I loop over those points to create an array of longitude and latitude values that I can plot. A single point can be accessed with shape_ex.points[0] and will return a lon/lat pair, e.g. (-70.13123,40.6210). So I pull out the first and second index and put them in pre-defined numpy arrays:

x_lon = np.zeros((len(shape_ex.points),1))
y_lat = np.zeros((len(shape_ex.points),1))
for ip in range(len(shape_ex.points)):
    x_lon[ip] = shape_ex.points[ip][0]
    y_lat[ip] = shape_ex.points[ip][1]

And then I plot it:

plt.plot(x_lon,y_lat,'k')

# use bbox (bounding box) to set plot limits
plt.xlim(shape_ex.bbox[0],shape_ex.bbox[2])

single

This returns the state of Oregon! I also used the bbox attribute to set the x limits of the plot. bbox contains four elements that define a bounding box using the lower left lon/lat and upper right lon/lat. Since I’m setting the axes aspect ratio equal here, I only define the x limit.

Great! So all we need now is to loop over each shape (state) and plot it! Right? Well this code snippet does just that:

plt.figure()
ax = plt.axes()
ax.set_aspect('equal')
for shape in list(sf.iterShapes()):
   x_lon = np.zeros((len(shape.points),1))
   y_lat = np.zeros((len(shape.points),1))
   for ip in range(len(shape.points)):
       x_lon[ip] = shape.points[ip][0]
       y_lat[ip] = shape.points[ip][1]

   plt.plot(x_lon,y_lat)

plt.xlim(-130,-60)
plt.ylim(23,50)

And we can see some problems with the result:

bad_map

The issue is that in some of the shapes (states), the geometry has multiple closed loops (because of the islands in some states), so simply connecting the lat/lon points creates some weird lines.

But it turns out that the parts attribute of each shape includes information to save us! For a single shape the parts attribute (accessed with shape.parts) contains a list of indeces corresponding to the start of a new closed loop within a shape. So I modified the above code to first check if there are any closed loops (number of parts > 1) and then loop over each part, pulling out the correct index range for each segment of geometry:

plt.figure()
ax = plt.axes() # add the axes
ax.set_aspect('equal')

for shape in list(sf.iterShapes()):
    npoints=len(shape.points) # total points
    nparts = len(shape.parts) # total parts

    if nparts == 1:
       x_lon = np.zeros((len(shape.points),1))
       y_lat = np.zeros((len(shape.points),1))
       for ip in range(len(shape.points)):
           x_lon[ip] = shape.points[ip][0]
           y_lat[ip] = shape.points[ip][1]
       plt.plot(x_lon,y_lat)

    else: # loop over parts of each shape, plot separately
       for ip in range(nparts): # loop over parts, plot separately
           i0=shape.parts[ip]
           if ip < nparts-1:
              i1 = shape.parts[ip+1]-1
          else:
              i1 = npoints

         seg=shape.points[i0:i1+1]
         x_lon = np.zeros((len(seg),1))
         y_lat = np.zeros((len(seg),1))
         for ip in range(len(seg)):
             x_lon[ip] = seg[ip][0]
             y_lat[ip] = seg[ip][1]

         plt.plot(x_lon,y_lat)

plt.xlim(-130,-60)
plt.ylim(23,50)
plt.show()

And we can see those spurious lines are now gone:

good_map

Final Thoughts

Now that I feel pretty good about the information contained in a shapefile and how it’s stored, I’ll be moving on to more exciting visualizations. It’s important to note, that there are many Python libraries that can plot shapefiles without manually pulling out the points as I’ve done here. But I feel much better about using those fancier approaches now that I’ve gone through this exercise.

Also, in this post I’ve only touched on the geometry information in a shapefile. But it’s really the records included in the .dbf files that will make this an interesting visualization. The records contain measurements, observations or descriptions for each shape and that information can be used to color or fill each shape to create visualizations like this one (not my work).

Useful links: pyshp documentation, Plot shapefile with matplotlib (Stack Exchange)