09 March 2017

Placing shapes on a map is pretty straight-forward thanks to fantastic libraries like Leaflet.js. However, on one of my recent projects I needed to take maps that were using NAD83 projections and translate them into usable GeoJSON. Most mapping libaries used on the web use a more generic projection, WGS84, and will not support drawing shapes using an alternative projection (like NAD83).

There are few tools better than GeoDjango and PostGIS for building maps into web applications. I wanted to use these tools to make the transformation.

If you search for “translating NAD83 to WGS84” you’re going to find all sorts of intimidating information (like this whitepaper from NOAA). For a non-GIS specialist like myself, this can be quite alarming. Fortunately, GeoDjango and PostGIS have our back.

First, you’ll need to get GeoDjango and PostGIS up and running. That’s not in the scope of this article, and there are plenty of wonderful tutorials on how to do that so I will leave that as an exercise to the reader.

First, you need to get the SRID (also known as the EPSG) for the data you want to map. You can get information about the file by inspecting it on the command line with a tool like ogrinfo or using GeoDjango’s DataSource class.

$ ogr2info path/to/filename.shp filename -so
$ ./manage.py shell
Python 3.5.2+ (default, Sep 22 2016, 12:18:14) 
Type "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.

IPython 5.1.0 -- An enhanced Interactive Python.
?         -> Introduction and overview of IPython's features.
%quickref -> Quick reference.
help      -> Python's own help system.
object?   -> Details about 'object', use 'object??' for extra details.

In [1]: import os

In [2]: shp = os.path.abspath('/path/to/filename.shp')

In [3]: from django.contrib.gis.gdal import DataSource

In [4]: ds = DataSource(shp)

In [5]: layer = ds[0]

In [6]: layer.srs
Out[6]: <django.contrib.gis.gdal.srs.SpatialReference at 0x7f949428a8d0>

In [7]: print(layer.srs)

Either way you choose to do it, you will see something like this:


The part you want is that first line: NAD_1983_UTM_Zone_16N. Google that, and you should be able to find a page like this one on spatialreference.org.

Note that in this case, the SRID / EPSG is 26916. When you create a database column in GeoDjango, you’ll either need to translate this to WGS84 or you’ll need to indicate that the data is stored with srid=26916.

If you choose to store it in the original format, your model attribute will look something like:

class Foobar(models.Model):
    geom = models.MultiPolygon(srid=26916)
    name = models.CharField(max_length=32)

To convert Foobar.geom to GeoJSON, you can use the GeoDjango serializer:

serialize('geojson', Foobar.objects.filter(name='Cookies'),

This will output a nice GeoJSON document that is projected in WGS84, useful for showing on the web with a tool like Leaflet.js. Note that we did not need to even provide the srid parameter here since it defaults to WGS84 (4326).