Maps in R

It isn’t difficult to draw maps in R, and in fact there are several options available. Here’s how to draw maps using the package sp.

I use a map of Swiss cantons to lament on the shapefile available from fantastic GADM. Let’s have a look at the population for each canton first, however, available here. I copied the table into a spreadsheet to select just the cantons and replace the canton names with their abbreviations. I often find this kind of data handling easier outside of R.

p <- read.table(file="clipboard")
rownames(p) <- p$V1
p$V1 <- NULL
p <- data.frame(t(p))

Here I import the data via the clipboard; use the names of the cantons as row names, and remove the first column that held the names. I also transpose the data and convert it to a data frame. Usually this kind of preparation isn’t necessary, as I have the data already in R (from whatever analysis I’m doing).

con <- url("")

Here I load the package, and get the shapefile from GADM. You can find the URL on the GADM website. This code is essential.

target <- c("AG","AR", "AI","BL", "BS", "BE", "FR", "GE", "GL", "GR", "JU", "LU", "NE", "NW", "OW", "SG", "SH", "SZ", "SO", "TG", "TI", "UR", "VS", "VD", "ZG", "ZH")

This is the order of the cantons in the shapefile. It seems to be in alphabetical order when the names of the cantons are spelled out. This is different from the idiosyncratic way the data are reported on the website used. With such a small number of units (26 cantons), I could enter the data manually, but that’s prone to errors.

data <- NA # create target
data <- sapply(target, function(x) {data[1] <- as.numeric(p[x])})

Here I use the fantastic sapply function to allocate the values in p to their right place.

gadm$data <- data
col <- rev(heat.colors(26))
spplot(gadm, "data", col.regions=col, main="Population (in thousands)")

This is the final code, and we’re back to essential code in the final line.


If you want to follow this example, but struggle to get the data in, try this instead:

p <- structure(list(ZH = 1425.5, BE = 1001.3, LU = 390.3, UR = 35.9,
SZ = 151.4, OW = 36.5, NW = 41.9, GL = 39.6, ZG = 118.1,
FR = 297.6, SO = 261.4, BS = 189.3, BL = 278.7, SH = 78.8,
AR = 53.7, AI = 15.8, SG = 491.7, GR = 195, AG = 636.4, TG = 260.3,
TI = 346.5, VD = 749.4, VS = 327, NE = 176.4, GE = 469.4,
JU = 71.7), .Names = c("ZH", "BE", "LU", "UR", "SZ", "OW",
"NW", "GL", "ZG", "FR", "SO", "BS", "BL", "SH", "AR", "AI", "SG",
"GR", "AG", "TG", "TI", "VD", "VS", "NE", "GE", "JU"), row.names = "V2", class = "data.frame")

And I nearly forgot the lamenting: while version 1 of the GADM shapefile included 27 areas, one of which was the Swiss part of Lake Geneva, version 2 of the GADM shapefile includes the entire Lake Constance as part of the canton of Thurgau — including the parts that are German. Let’s hope their quicker to fix this time around (I reported it).

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