Plot maps with base mapping tools and ggmap in R

Plot maps with ‘base’ mapping tools in R

Understanding what kind of data you have (polygons or points?) and what you want to map is pivotal to start your mapping.

  1. First you need a shapefile of the area you want to plot, such as metropolitan France. There are various resources where to get them from: DIVA-GIS and EUROSTAT are those that I use the most. It’s always important to have a .prj file included, as your final map ‘should’ be projecte. I say “should” as sometimes it is just not possible, especially if you work with historical maps.
  2. Upload libraries

Load and prepare data

fr.prj <- readOGR(".", "FRA_adm2")
## OGR data source with driver: ESRI Shapefile
## Source: ".", layer: "FRA_adm2"
## with 96 features
## It has 18 fields
## NOTE: rgdal::checkCRSArgs: no proj_defs.dat in PROJ.4 shared files
## Warning in SpatialPolygons2map(database, namefield = namefield): database
## does not (uniquely) contain the field 'name'.

##   ID_0 ISO NAME_0 ID_1    NAME_1  ID_2         NAME_2   VARNAME_2
## 0   76 FRA France  989    Alsace 13755       Bas-Rhin  Unterelsaá
## 1   76 FRA France  989    Alsace 13756      Haut-Rhin   Oberelsaá
## 2   76 FRA France  990 Aquitaine 13757       Dordogne        <NA>
## 3   76 FRA France  990 Aquitaine 13758        Gironde Bec-D'Ambes
## 4   76 FRA France  990 Aquitaine 13759         Landes      Landas
## 5   76 FRA France  990 Aquitaine 13760 Lot-Et-Garonne        <NA>
## 0      <NA>  FR.BR <NA> Département Department  17900226   Unknown
## 1      <NA>  FR.HR <NA> Département Department  17900226   Unknown
## 2      <NA>  FR.DD <NA> Département Department  17900226   Unknown
## 3      <NA>  FR.GI <NA> Département Department  17900226   Unknown
## 4      <NA>  FR.LD <NA> Département Department  17900226   Unknown
## 5      <NA>  FR.LG <NA> Département Department  17900226   Unknown
##   REMARKS_2 Shape_Leng Shape_Area
## 0      <NA>   4.538735  0.5840273
## 1      <NA>   3.214178  0.4198797
## 2      <NA>   5.012795  1.0389622
## 3      <NA>   9.200047  1.1489822
## 4      <NA>   5.531231  1.0372815
## 5      <NA>   4.489830  0.6062017
# load or create data
myvar <- rnorm(1:96)
# manipulate data for the plot
france.geodata  <- data.frame(id=rownames(fr.prj@data), mapvariable=myvar)
##   id mapvariable
## 1  0  1.12200636
## 2  1  0.05912043
## 3  2 -1.05873510
## 4  3 -1.31513865
## 5  4  0.32392954
## 6  5  0.09152878

Use ggmap

# fortify prepares the shape data for ggplot
france.dataframe <- fortify(fr.prj) # convert to data frame for ggplot
## Regions defined for each Polygons
##       long      lat order  hole piece id group
## 1 7.847912 49.04728     1 FALSE     1  0   0.1
## 2 7.844539 49.04495     2 FALSE     1  0   0.1
## 3 7.852439 49.04510     3 FALSE     1  0   0.1
## 4 7.854333 49.04419     4 FALSE     1  0   0.1
## 5 7.855955 49.04431     5 FALSE     1  0   0.1
## 6 7.856299 49.03776     6 FALSE     1  0   0.1
#now combine the values by id values in both dataframes
france.dat <- join(france.geodata, france.dataframe, by="id")
##   id mapvariable     long      lat order  hole piece group
## 1  0    1.122006 7.847912 49.04728     1 FALSE     1   0.1
## 2  0    1.122006 7.844539 49.04495     2 FALSE     1   0.1
## 3  0    1.122006 7.852439 49.04510     3 FALSE     1   0.1
## 4  0    1.122006 7.854333 49.04419     4 FALSE     1   0.1
## 5  0    1.122006 7.855955 49.04431     5 FALSE     1   0.1
## 6  0    1.122006 7.856299 49.03776     6 FALSE     1   0.1
# Plot 3
p <- ggplot(data=france.dat, aes(x=long, y=lat, group=group))
p <- p + geom_polygon(aes(fill=mapvariable)) +
       geom_path(color="white",size=0.1) +
       coord_equal() +
       scale_fill_gradient(low = "#ffffcc", high = "#ff4444") +
       labs(title="Our map",fill="My variable")
# plot the map


Use plot basic

nclassint <- 5 #number of colors to be used in the palette
cat <- classIntervals(myvar, nclassint,style = "jenks") #style refers to how the breaks are created
colpal <- brewer.pal(nclassint,"RdBu")
color <- findColours(cat,rev(colpal)) #sequential
bins <- cat$brks
lb <- length(bins)
plot(fr.prj, col=color,border=T)
legend("bottomleft",fill=rev(colpal),legend=paste(round(bins[-length(bins)],1),":",round(bins[-1],1)),cex=1, bg="white")


Find color breaks for mapping (fast)

I’ve stumbled upon a little trick to compute jenks breaks faster than with the classInt package, just be sure to use n+1 instead of n as the breaks are computed a little bit differently. That is to say, if you want 5 breaks, n=6, no biggie there.

For more on the Bayesian Analysis of Macroevolutionary Mixtures see BAMMtools library

system.time(getJenksBreaks(mydata$myvar, 6))
> user system elapsed
> 0.970 0.001 0.971

On the other hand this takes way more time with large datasets
system.time(classIntervals(mydata$myvar, n=5, style="jenks"))
> Timing stopped at: 1081.894 1.345 1083.511

Upload files in R

Upload files from Excel, STATA, SAS, SPSS and text

First set the working directory (or check it)

getwd() # get working directory
 [1] "/Users/me/My Folder/"
 setwd("./My Subfolder/") # set working directory

1. .csv and .txt files

the read.csv function has many options, some of them are header=T which sets the first line as column names, sep=“,” the field separator character (in this case the semicolon), dec=“.” decimal sep character, skip=2 number of lines to skip (in this case 2).

read.csv2 is identical to read.csv except it assumes commas to be the decimal operators and semicolon as field separator

read.table works similarly to read.csv, but reads text files.

 mydata <- read.csv("mydata.csv", header=T)

When importing data in R, if any column’s name is a number, R will add an X to it (as in general it is a very bad idea to have numbers for column names, but can be handy). You can replace column names with:

 colnames(mydata) <- c("name1", "name2", "name3", "2017", "2018", "2019")

If you change or add anything to your data and want to save it then ( write.table for txt output):

 write.csv(mydata, "mydata.csv", row.names=FALSE)

2. STATA files .dta

 write.dta(mydata, "mydata.dta")

3. SPSS files .sav

use.value.labels by default is TRUE and converts value labels into factors. The mydata.txt is the name for data output, while the mydata.sps is the code output.

 mydata <- read.spss("mydata",, use.value.labels = FALSE)
 write.foreign(, "mydata.txt", "mydata.sps", package="SPSS")

4. SAS files .sas

Note that by default it converts value labels into factors

## to read from SAS
 mydata <- sasxport.get("mydata.xpt")

## to save in SAS format
 write.foreign(, "mydata.txt", "", package="SAS")

5. Excel spreadsheet

# library(xlsx)
 mydata <- read.xlsx("c:/myexcel.xlsx", 1) # 1 refers to the first worksheet-page altrenatively...
 mydata <- read.xlsx("c:/myexcel.xlsx", sheetName="Data input")
 write.xlsx(mydata, "mydata.xlsx")
# library(readxl)
mydata <-system.file("mypath/myexcel.xlsx", package = "readxl")
mydata <- read_excel(mydata, 1)

(A few) quick tricks

# head(mydata, n=10) # first 10 rows
 tail(mydata, n=10) # last 10 rows
 mydata[1,1:10] # print first row and first 10 columns
 names(mydata) # variable names
 nrow(mydata) # number of rows
 ncol(mydata) # number of columns
 str(mydata) # list structure of data
 class(mydata) # class of data
 view(mydata) # opens viewer window

A map of the US election results

  1. Upload libraries:
rm(list = ls(all=T)) #clear workspace
library(maptools) #to read shapefiles

2. Download the data files (note they are not ready for use but need some cleaning as there are more areas in the excel files than polygons in the shape file). I copy here the code as I have used it in my script but it’s available at RPubs thanks to David Robinson.

download.file("", "LND01.xls")
download.file("", "POP01.xls")

according to metadata, this is Land Area in 2010 and resident population in 2010:

us_county_area <- read_excel("LND01.xls") 
transmute(CountyCode = as.character(as.integer(STCOU)), Area = LND110210D)

us_county_population <- read_excel("POP01.xls") 
transmute(CountyCode = as.character(as.integer(STCOU)),Population = POP010210D)

3. Adjust data

election_url <- ""
county_data <- read_csv(election_url) 
group_by(CountyCode = as.character(fips)) 
mutate(TotalVotes = sum(votes)) 
mutate(name = str_replace(name, ".\\. ", "")) 
filter(name %in% c("Trump", "Clinton", "Johnson", "Stein")) 
transmute(County = str_replace(geo_name, " County", ""),
State = state,
CountyCode = as.character(fips),
Candidate = name,
Percent = vote_pct / 100,
spread(Candidate, Percent, fill = 0) 
inner_join(us_county_population, by = "CountyCode") 
inner_join(us_county_area, by = "CountyCode")

you can save the data into a csv file:

# write_csv(county_data, "county_election_2016.csv")

You can download the cleaned datafile here: data_election_2016_by_county

4. Upload data and shape files

dt <- read.csv("new_county_election_2016.csv", header=T)
us <- readShapePoly("./USA_adm/USA_adm2.shp")
us0 <- readShapePoly("./USA_adm/USA_adm0.shp")
us.m <- us[-c(which(us$NAME_1=="Alaska")),] #get rid of Alaska
us.d <- us.m[-c(67:71),]

5. Prepare the color palette(s)

nclassint <- 5 #number of colors to be used in the palette
cat.T <- classIntervals(dt$Trump[-c(67:71)], nclassint,style = "jenks") #style refers to how the breaks are created
colpal.T <- brewer.pal(nclassint,"Reds")
color.T <- findColours(cat.T,colpal.T) #sequential
bins.T <- cat.T$brks
lb.T <- length(bins.T)

5. Plot the maps with map basic

# pdf("Where are the trump voters.pdf")
# plot(us.d, col=color.T, border=F)
# plot(us0,add=T, lwd=0.1)
# legend("bottomleft",fill=colpal.T,legend=paste(round(bins[-length(bins.T)],1),":",round(bins.T[-1],1)),cex=1, bg="white")
% Votes for Clinton
% Votes for Trump

… or ggplot2


ggplot(county_data, aes(Population / Area, Trump)) +
  geom_point() +
  geom_point(data=county_data[which(county_data$State=="Texas"),], aes(x=Population/Area, y=Trump), colour="red")+
  scale_x_log10() +
  scale_y_continuous(labels = percent_format()) +
  xlab("Population density (ppl / square mile)") +
  ylab("% of votes going to Trump") +
  geom_text(aes(label = County), vjust = 1, hjust = 1, check_overlap = TRUE) +
  geom_smooth(method = "lm") +
  ggtitle("Population density vs Trump voters by county (Texas Counties in red)")

This is the code to plot in red points according to State (in red) and to add red labels to those points. The check_overlap=T avoids overlapping labels.

# ggplot(county_data, aes(Population / Area, Trump)) +
#   geom_point() +
#   geom_point(data=county_data[which(county_data$State=="California"),], aes(x=Population/Area, y=Trump), colour="red")+
#   scale_x_log10() +
#   scale_y_continuous(labels = percent_format()) +
#   xlab("Population density (ppl / square mile)") +
#   ylab("% of votes going to Trump") +
#   geom_text(data=county_data[which(county_data$State=="California"),], aes(label = ifelse(Trump&amp;gt;.5, as.character(dt$County), "" )), color= "red",size=5,vjust = 1, hjust = 1, check_overlap = TRUE) +
#   geom_smooth(method = "lm") +
#   ggtitle("Population density vs Trump voters by county (California in red)")



Arranging ggplot2 graphs on a page

How to arrange graphs in ggplot2 without the help of the layout matrix

How do you arrange non-simmetric plots in ggplot2?
With the print command:

After installing these two packages: install.packages(“grid”, “ggplot2”), load the  libraries:

The data and code for the three graphs is taken from this website:

# create factors with value labels
mtcars$gear <- factor(mtcars$gear,levels=c(3,4,5), labels=c("3gears","4gears","5gears"))
mtcars$am <- factor(mtcars$am,levels=c(0,1), labels=c("Automatic","Manual"))
mtcars$cyl <- factor(mtcars$cyl,levels=c(4,6,8), labels=c("4cyl","6cyl","8cyl"))

# Kernel density plots for mpg
# grouped by number of gears (indicated by color)
a <- qplot(mpg, data=mtcars, geom="density", fill=gear, alpha=I(.5),
main="Distribution of Gas Milage", xlab="Miles Per Gallon",

# Scatterplot of mpg vs. hp for each combination of gears and cylinders
# in each facet, transmittion type is represented by shape and color
b <- qplot(hp, mpg, data=mtcars, shape=am, color=am,
facets=gear~cyl, size=I(3),
xlab="Horsepower", ylab="Miles per Gallon")

c <- qplot(gear, mpg, data=mtcars, geom=c("boxplot", "jitter"),
fill=gear, main="Mileage by Gear Number",
xlab="", ylab="Miles per Gallon")

a, b, and c are our graphs. Here we decide how to place the plots on the plotting surface:

grid.newpage() # Open a new page on grid device
pushViewport(viewport(layout = grid.layout(3, 1))) #this can really be anything... just remember to change accordingly the print commands below
print(a, vp = viewport(layout.pos.row = 1, layout.pos.col = 1:1))
print(b, vp = viewport(layout.pos.row = 2, layout.pos.col = 1:1))
print(c, vp = viewport(layout.pos.row = 3, layout.pos.col = 1:1))

The layout=grid.layout is the command dividing the plotting surface, in the example I have divided it into three rows and one column, hence the layout.pos.row = 1, 2, 3 and the layout.pos.row = 1:1 equal for all three plots.


What if I need something asymmetrical? For instance two small plots on one column and one taking up more space… The reasoning is very similar to that of the layout matrix: divide the space into 4 squares grid.layout(2, 2) and then plot the third graph over two rows layout.pos.row=1:2

grid.newpage() # Open a new page on grid device
pushViewport(viewport(layout = grid.layout(2, 2))) #this can really be anything... just remember to change accordingly the print commands below
print(a, vp = viewport(layout.pos.row = 1, layout.pos.col = 1:1))
print(b, vp = viewport(layout.pos.row = 2, layout.pos.col = 1:1))
print(c, vp = viewport(layout.pos.row = 1:2, layout.pos.col = 2:2))


How to get good maps in R and avoid the expensive softwares

How to convey as much information as possible in a clear and simple way? Producing maps for social sciences is not difficult, there are a plethora of softwares that can help us. But there are a few issues to consider when choosing your to go program:
(1) Do I want to do all my analysis in one (or more) program(s) and then switch to another one to make those maps?
(2) Are those programs freely accessible to me?
1. Using more than one softwares usually implies spending time to learn different syntax:  why do your analysis in (insert name here ____) and then plot in R when you can do everything in R?
2. The availability of mapping softwares is no trivial issue. Not all researchers have powerful computers, not all institutes have bottomless funds to buy licences, and sometimes having the possibility to map on your laptop while bingeing on Netflix is way nicer than waiting for the one computer with the one licence.

Probably the best and most elegant mapping tool available to Geographers is ArcGIS (to my knowledge, but again, I use R and own a Mac), however it does not come for free. What to do? Well, R is a very good alternative, you can produce elegant maps, customizable to the very last detail. The only drawback I have encountered is the time you would spend to get the first map, but then you would have the syntax and any other map would be pretty quick to plot, and you can always for loop all graphics (although I do not recommend it). Moreover, R runs on your Mac (and Linux), it allows for way more control over features, and has great color palettes (see here and here).

Here are some useful libraries:
library(maps) #for creating geographical maps
library(RColorBrewer) #contains color palettes
library(classInt) #defines the class intervals for the color palettes
library(maptools) #tools for handling spatial objects
library(raster) #tools to deal with raster maps
library(ggplot2) #to create maps, quick and painless

Some stuff to keep in mind:
(1) add a scale with (or a nice  scalebar);
(2) it is sometimes required to add a north arrow, you can find many versions for that (see this document on page 4 for  examples, I use the same with no labels);
(3) locator() is a very useful tool to get the coordinates when adding labels, arrows, scales and so on.

Part 1: get a plain map.

Below is a very simple example produced using EUROSTAT shape files for world countries (world) and DIVA-GIS for Spain at NUTS3 level (spain). In this map I have removed the Canary Islands, but you can always cut it and paste it in the map using either par(fig=c(…)) or par(fin(…)), inset, or something more elaborated with layout, and framing it using box() or rectangle.

world is the shapefile for the whole world, where I select the neighboring countries I want to appear in the map, in this case Spain, France, Portugal, France, Morocco, and Algeria.
spain is the Spain NUTS3 shapefile where I remove the Canary Islands (45)

plot(spain[-c(45),], border=F) #this first line does not plot anything, it just centers my graph on Spain, the -c(45) removes the Canary Islands
plot(world[c(6, 67,74, 132, 177),], border="lightblue",add=T, col="beige") #plotting the countries appearing in the map
plot(spain[-c(45),], border="brown", lwd=0.2, add=T, col="lightblue") #plot spain, removing the Canary Islands
map.scale(3,35.81324, ratio=F, cex=0.7, relwidth=0.1) # scale map
northarrow(c(4.8,42.9),0.7, cex=0.8)


Part 2: Add labels

Using the function shadow text to avoid labels overlapping.

coords<- coordinates(spain) # get goordinates of the centroids, it's where you center your labels
# p.names is a data frame containing the coordinates and all the names of the provinces (remember to get rid of those you don't want to use if using only a selection). Usually you can find the names in the shapefile, but I didn't have them.
shadowtext(p.names[,1],p.names[,2], label=paste(p.names[,3]), cex=0.7,col="black", bg="white",r=0.1)



A view of Spanish fertility by age groups (with the help of log scales)

I have been working a lot with the demography library in R, it is a great teaching tool for demography, modeling, life tables, graphic visualization of demographic data, and for many other things (see demography ).
There are a lot of examples available using data from the Human Fertility and Mortality Database.
Here I am using data that I have obtained from Spanish Statistics, a fertility rates time series consisting of 5 years age groups (available from download from here).
It is very nice to plot fertility rates by age groups as one can appreciate the changes in fertility occurred over time (in terms of quantum) and how much each age group contributes to fertility. In the case of Spain,.



The very same plot can be obtained through ggplot2 library (given an appropriate theme (see ggplot themes):

ggplot(ddfert, aes(Year, Female, group= Age,col= Age))+
scale_color_manual(values= c("red", "yellow", "lightgreen", "green","lightblue", "blue", "violet"))+
scale_x_continuous(labels = c(1975, 1985, 1995, 2005, 2015))+
scale_y_continuous("Fertility Rate")


I find it often interesting to plot using a log scale, so that small values don’t get compressed to the end of the graph. In this case it would be sufficient to add to the demography code:
plot(spain, plot.type="time", xlab= "Year", lwd=2, transform=T)...
and to ggplot :
ggplot(ddfert, aes(Year, log(Female), group= Age,col= Age))+...