Tips for Creating Watershed Maps in R

There have been a few posts on this blog on creating watershed maps (here, here, and here), but this post is going to be focused on some of my recent experiences on creating watershed maps in R with files that may be missing attributes, are in the wrong projection, and contain data that need to be clipped to a specific boundary shapefile. There are lots of packages that exist to do one or more of these things, but anyone who has ever tried to create watershed maps in R knows that there isn’t one package that does it all. My main goal for this post is to outline the most efficient workflow and use of packages that also allow for the most compatibility when plotting shapefiles and raster files in one figure.

In this post, we are going to be creating a map of the Tuolumne River Basin boundary and plot elevation data within the basin. All the data are found here. First we will read in the Tuolumne boundary shape file (.shp) and the elevation raster file (.asc which is an ASCII file) using the appropriate functions and do some preliminary plotting to see what we have.

#Import libraries 

library(rgdal)
library(ggplot2)
library(raster)

#Read in Tuolumne shapefile

tuolumne.basin <- readOGR(dsn = "doi_10.6071_M3FH3D__v5/tuolumne_merced_data_2009-2015/Merced_Tuolumne_Dataset_SpatialData/SpatialData/Tuolumne_utm.shp")

#Read in elevation raster

elevation.raster = raster("doi_10.6071_M3FH3D__v5/tuolumne_merced_data_2009-2015/Merced_Tuolumne_Dataset_SpatialData/SpatialData/merced_tuolumne_100mdem_utm.asc")

#Plot the files
 
ggplot() +  geom_polygon(data = tuolumne.basin, aes(x = long, y = lat, group = group), colour = "dark red", fill = NA)
plot(elevation.raster)
Raw shapefile and raster data

So we have the pieces that we need to build the map, but notice that the latitude and longitude are in the wrong projection. We can use the following command to check what projection the shapefile is in:

proj4string(tuolumne.basin) 

We see that the output is: “+proj=utm +zone=11 +datum=NAD83 +units=m +no_defs”. So we are in the Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system, but we should change to WGS 84. We can do this using the function “spTransform” which will swap out the projection by adjusting the CRS (Coordinate Reference System) attribute of the shapefile. You can use “proj4string” to verify that the transformation took place.

 tuolumne.basin.transformed <- spTransform(tuolumne.basin, CRS("+proj=longlat +ellps=WGS84 +datum=WGS84"))

Now we need to transform the raster files coordinates. Note that the raster file doesn’t have an associated coordinate reference system listed. If you try to change the projection at this point, you will get an error. This is a minor inconvenience since we know that the coordinate system should match that of the raw Tuolumne shapefile and we can just insert the original coordinate system as a string under the projargs attribute. Then we can transform it to match the coordinate system of the transformed shapefile using “projectRaster”.

elevation.raster@crs@projargs <- "+proj=utm +zone=11 +datum=NAD83 +units=m +no_defs" 
  
elevation.raster.transformed <- projectRaster(elevation.raster,crs=crs(tuolumne.basin.transformed))

Great, now we have all the data in the right projection. Now we have to clip the raster layer to show only the data in the bounds of our shapefile. We first use the “crop” function in the raster library to clip the layer based on the extent of the shapefile boundary as well as the mask function. It is important to do both otherwise the clip will not work!

elevation.raster.transformed.cropped <- crop(elevation.raster.transformed, extent(tuolumne.basin.transformed))
elevation.raster.transformed.cropped <- mask(elevation.raster.transformed, tuolumne.basin.transformed)

Now we need to get the appropriate elevation values and coordinates from the raster object so that we can plot it using ggplot.When we use ggplot here, notice that we only need to use geom_raster and elevation data since the clipped data will perfectly follow the shapefile boundary.

#Isolate elevation values from the raster file

val <- getValues(elevation.raster.transformed.cropped)
xy <-as.data.frame(xyFromCell(elevation.raster.transformed.cropped,1:ncell(elevation.raster.transformed.cropped)))
xy <- cbind(xy,val)

#Plot it!

ggplot()+geom_raster(data=xy, aes(x=x, y=y, fill=val))+ scale_fill_viridis_c()+theme_bw()
A not so pretty watershed figure

It’s almost perfect aside from that gray box that results from clipping and masking. After we clip, we are converting all values outside the boundary of the shapefile to NAs, which falls out of the bounds of our color scale. To fix this, we simply insert an additional argument to scale_fill_viridis_c() and we also make some additional aesthetic changes to the theme.

#Final plot function

ggplot()+geom_raster(data=xy, aes(x=x, y=y, fill=val))+ scale_fill_viridis_c(na.value=NA,name = "Elevation (m)")+theme_bw()+ggtitle("Tuolumne River Basin Elevation (m)")+xlab("Longitude") + ylab("Latitude")+theme(text = element_text(size = 20)) 
A pretty watershed figure!

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