- Things You’ll Need To Complete This Tutorial
- About Raster Data
- Types of Data Stored in Raster Format
- What is a GeoTIFF??
- Raster Data in R
- Open a Raster in R
- Coordinate Reference System
- Calculate Raster Min and Max Values
- NoData Values in Rasters
- Bad Data Values in Rasters
- Create A Histogram of Raster Values
- Raster Bands
- View Raster File Attributes
- Challenge: Explore Raster Metadata
In this tutorial, we will review the fundamental principles, packages and
metadata/raster attributes that are needed to work with raster data in
We discuss the three core metadata elements that we need to understand to work
with rasters in
R: CRS, extent and resolution. It also explores
missing and bad data values as stored in a raster and how
R handles these
elements. Finally, it introduces the GeoTiff file format.
R Skill Level: Intermediate - you’ve got the basics of
After completing this activity, you will:
- Understand what a raster dataset is and its fundamental attributes.
- Know how to explore raster attributes in
- Be able to import rasters into
- Be able to quickly plot a raster file in
- Understand the difference between single- and multi-band rasters.
Things You’ll Need To Complete This Tutorial
You will need the most current version of
R and, preferably,
on your computer to complete this tutorial.
Install R Packages
- More on Packages in R - Adapted from Software Carpentry.
The LiDAR and imagery data used to create this raster teaching data subset were collected over the National Ecological Observatory Network’s Harvard Forest and San Joaquin Experimental Range field sites and processed at NEON headquarters. The entire dataset can be accessed by request from the NEON Airborne Data Request Page on the NEON website.
Set Working Directory: This lesson assumes that you have set your working
directory to the location of the downloaded and unzipped data subsets. An overview
of setting the working directory in
R can be found here.
R Script & Challenge Code: NEON data lessons often contain challenges that reinforce
learned skills. If available, the code for challenge solutions is found in the
R script of the entire lesson, available in the footer of each lesson page.
About Raster Data
Raster or “gridded” data are stored as a grid of values which are rendered on a map as pixels. Each pixel value represents an area on the Earth’s surface.
Types of Data Stored in Raster Format
Raster data can be continuous or categorical. Continuous rasters can have a range of quantitative values. Some examples of continuous rasters include:
- Precipitation maps.
- Maps of tree height derived from LiDAR data.
- Elevation values for a region.
A map of elevation for Harvard Forest derived from the NEON AOP LiDAR sensor is below. Elevation is represented as continuous numeric variable in this map. The legend shows the continuous range of values in the data from around 300 to 420 meters.
Some rasters contain categorical data where each pixel represents a discrete class such as a landcover type (e.g., “forest” or “grassland”) rather than a continuous value such as elevation or temperature. Some examples of classified maps include:
- Landcover / land-use maps.
- Tree height maps classified as short, medium, tall trees.
- Elevation maps classified as low, medium and high elevation.
Categorical Landcover Map for the United States
Categorical Elevation Map of the NEON Harvard Forest Site
The legend of this map shows the colors representing each discrete class.
What is a GeoTIFF??
Raster data can come in many different formats. In this tutorial, we will use the
geotiff format which has the extension
.tif file stores metadata
or attributes about the file as embedded
tif tags. For instance, your camera
store a tag that describes the make and model of the camera or the date the
photo was taken when it saves a
.tif. A GeoTIFF is a standard
format with additional spatial (georeferencing) information embedded in the file
as tags. These tags can include the following raster metadata:
- A Coordinate Reference System (
- Spatial Extent (
- Values that represent missing data (
resolutionof the data
In this tutorial we will discuss all of these metadata tags.
More about the
Raster Data in R
Let’s first import a raster dataset into
R and explore its metadata.
To open rasters in
R, we will use the
# load libraries library(raster) library(rgdal) # set working directory to ensure R can find the file we wish to import # setwd("working-dir-path-here")
Open a Raster in R
We can use the
raster("path-to-raster-here") function to open a raster in R.
Data Tip: OBJECT NAMES! To improve code
readability, file and object names should be used that make it clear what is in
the file. The data for this tutorial were collected over from Harvard Forest so
we’ll use a naming convention of
# Load raster into R DSM_HARV <- raster("NEON-DS-Airborne-Remote-Sensing/HARV/DSM/HARV_dsmCrop.tif") # View raster structure DSM_HARV ## class : RasterLayer ## dimensions : 1367, 1697, 2319799 (nrow, ncol, ncell) ## resolution : 1, 1 (x, y) ## extent : 731453, 733150, 4712471, 4713838 (xmin, xmax, ymin, ymax) ## coord. ref. : +proj=utm +zone=18 +datum=WGS84 +units=m +no_defs +ellps=WGS84 +towgs84=0,0,0 ## data source : /Users/lwasser/Documents/data/1_DataPortal_Workshop/1_WorkshopData/NEON-DS-Airborne-Remote-Sensing/HARV/DSM/HARV_dsmCrop.tif ## names : HARV_dsmCrop ## values : 305.07, 416.07 (min, max) # plot raster # note \n in the title forces a line break in the title plot(DSM_HARV, main="NEON Digital Surface Model\nHarvard Forest")
Here is a map showing the elevation of our site in Harvard Forest.
Coordinate Reference System
The Coordinate Reference System or
R where the raster is located
in geographic space. It also tells
R what method should be used to “flatten”
or project the raster in geographic space.
What Makes Spatial Data Line Up On A Map?
There are lots of great resources that describe coordinate reference systems and
projections in greater detail (read more, below). For the purposes of this
activity, what is important to understand is that data from the same location
but saved in different projections will not line up in any GIS or other
program. Thus, it’s important when working with spatial data in a program like
R to identify the coordinate reference system applied to the data and retain
it throughout data processing and analysis.
- A comprehensive online library of CRS information.
- QGIS Documentation - CRS Overview.
- Choosing the Right Map Projection.
- NCEAS Overview of CRS in R.
How Map Projections Can Fool the Eye
Check out this short video highlighting how map projections can make continents seems proportionally larger or smaller than they actually are!
View Raster Coordinate Reference System (CRS) in R
We can view the
CRS string associated with our
R object using the
method. We can assign this string to an
R object, too.
# view resolution units crs(DSM_HARV) ## CRS arguments: ## +proj=utm +zone=18 +datum=WGS84 +units=m +no_defs +ellps=WGS84 ## +towgs84=0,0,0 # assign crs to an object (class) to use for reprojection and other tasks myCRS <- crs(DSM_HARV) myCRS ## CRS arguments: ## +proj=utm +zone=18 +datum=WGS84 +units=m +no_defs +ellps=WGS84 ## +towgs84=0,0,0
CRS of our
DSM_HARV object tells us that our data are in the UTM
The CRS in this case is in a
PROJ 4 format. This means that the projection
information is strung together as a series of text elements, each of which
begins with a
+proj=utm +zone=18 +datum=WGS84 +units=m +no_defs +ellps=WGS84 +towgs84=0,0,0
We’ll focus on the first few components of the CRS in this tutorial.
+proj=utmThe projection of the dataset. Our data are in Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM).
+zone=18The UTM projection divides up the world into zones, this element tells you which zone the data is in. Harvard Forest is in Zone 18.
+datum=WGS84The datum was used to define the center point of the projection. Our raster uses the
+units=mThis is the horizontal units that the data are in. Our units are meters.
The spatial extent is the geographic area that the raster data covers.
The spatial extent of an R spatial object represents the geographic “edge” or
location that is the furthest north, south, east and west. In other words,
represents the overall geographic coverage of the spatial object.
A raster has horizontal (x and y) resolution. This resolution represents the area on the ground that each pixel covers. The units for our data are in meters. Given our data resolution is 1 x 1, this means that each pixel represents a 1 x 1 meter area on the ground.
The best way to view resolution units is to look at the
coordinate reference system string
crs(). Notice our data contains:
crs(DSM_HARV) ## CRS arguments: ## +proj=utm +zone=18 +datum=WGS84 +units=m +no_defs +ellps=WGS84 ## +towgs84=0,0,0
Calculate Raster Min and Max Values
It is useful to know the minimum or maximum values of a raster dataset. In this case, given we are working with elevation data, these values represent the min/max elevation range at our site.
Raster statistics are often calculated and embedded in a
geotiff for us.
However if they weren’t already calculated, we can calculate them using the
# This is the code if min/max weren't calculated: # DSM_HARV <- setMinMax(DSM_HARV) # view the calculated min value minValue(DSM_HARV) ##  305.07 # view only max value maxValue(DSM_HARV) ##  416.07
We can see that the elevation at our site ranges from 305.07m to 416.07m.
NoData Values in Rasters
Raster data often has a
NoDataValue associated with it. This is a value
assigned to pixels where data is missing or no data were collected.
By default the shape of a raster is always square or rectangular. So if we
have a dataset that has a shape that isn’t square or rectangular, some pixels
at the edge of the raster will have
NoDataValues. This often happens when the
data were collected by an airplane which only flew over some part of a defined
In the image below, the pixels that are black have
The camera did not collect data in these areas.
In the next image, the black edges have been assigned
R doesn’t render pixels that contain a specified
R assigns missing data with the
NoData Value Standard
NoDataValue varies across disciplines;
-9999 is a common value
used in both the remote sensing field and the atmospheric fields. It is also
the standard used by the
National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).
If we are lucky, our GeoTIFF file has a tag that tells us what is the
NoDataValue. If we are less lucky, we can find that information in the
raster’s metadata. If a
NoDataValue was stored in the GeoTIFF tag, when
opens up the raster, it will assign each instance of the value to
NA will be ignored by
R as demonstrated above.
Bad Data Values in Rasters
Bad data values are different from
NoDataValues. Bad data values are values
that fall outside of the applicable range of a dataset.
Examples of Bad Data Values:
- The normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), which is a measure of greenness, has a valid range of -1 to 1. Any value outside of that range would be considered a “bad” or miscalculated value.
- Reflectance data in an image will often range from 0-1 or 0-10,000 depending upon how the data are scaled. Thus a value greater than 1 or greater than 10,000 is likely caused by an error in either data collection or processing.
Find Bad Data Values
Sometimes a raster’s metadata will tell us the range of expected values for a raster. Values outside of this range are suspect and we need to consider than when we analyze the data. Sometimes, we need to use some common sense and scientific insight as we examine the data - just as we would for field data to identify questionable values.
Create A Histogram of Raster Values
We can explore the distribution of values contained within our raster using the
hist() function which produces a histogram. Histograms are often useful in
identifying outliers and bad data values in our raster data.
# view histogram of data hist(DSM_HARV, main="Distribution of Digital Surface Model Values\n Histogram Default: 100,000 pixels\n NEON Harvard Forest", xlab="DSM Elevation Value (m)", ylab="Frequency", col="wheat") ## Warning in .hist1(x, maxpixels = maxpixels, main = main, plot = plot, ...): ## 4% of the raster cells were used. 100000 values used.
Notice that a warning message is thrown when
R creates the histogram.
Warning in .hist1(x, maxpixels = maxpixels, main = main, plot = plot, ...): 4%
of the raster cells were used. 100000 values used.
This warning is caused by the default maximum pixels value of 100,000 associated
hist function. This maximum value is to ensure processing efficiency
as our data become larger!
- More on histograms in R from R-bloggers
We can define the max pixels to ensure that all pixel values are included in the
histogram. USE THIS WITH CAUTION as forcing
R to plot all pixel values
in a histogram can be problematic when dealing with very large datasets.
# View the total number of pixels (cells) in is our raster ncell(DSM_HARV) ##  2319799 # create histogram that includes with all pixel values in the raster hist(DSM_HARV, maxpixels=ncell(DSM_HARV), main="Distribution of DSM Values\n All Pixel Values Included\n NEON Harvard Forest Field Site", xlab="DSM Elevation Value (m)", ylab="Frequency", col="wheat4")
Note that the shape of both histograms looks similar to the previous one that
was created using a representative 10,000 pixel subset of our raster data. The
distribution of elevation values for our
Digital Surface Model (DSM) looks
reasonable. It is likely there are no bad data values in this particular raster.
The Digital Surface Model object (
DSM_HARV) that we’ve been working with
is a single band raster. This means that there is only one dataset stored in
the raster: surface elevation in meters for one time period.
A raster dataset can contain one or more bands. We can use the
to import one single band from a single OR multi-band raster. We can view the number
of bands in a raster using the
# view number of bands nlayers(DSM_HARV) ##  1
However, raster data can also be multi-band meaning that one raster file
contains data for more than one variable or time period for each cell. By
raster() function only imports the first band in a raster
regardless of whether it has one or more bands. Jump to the fourth tutorial in
this series for a tutorial on multi-band rasters:
Work with Multi-band Rasters: Images in R.
View Raster File Attributes
Remember that a
GeoTIFF contains a set of embedded tags that contain
metadata about the raster. So far, we’ve explored raster metadata after
importing it in
R. However, we can use the
function to view raster metadata before we open a file in
# view attributes before opening file GDALinfo("NEON-DS-Airborne-Remote-Sensing/HARV/DSM/HARV_dsmCrop.tif") ## rows 1367 ## columns 1697 ## bands 1 ## lower left origin.x 731453 ## lower left origin.y 4712471 ## res.x 1 ## res.y 1 ## ysign -1 ## oblique.x 0 ## oblique.y 0 ## driver GTiff ## projection +proj=utm +zone=18 +datum=WGS84 +units=m +no_defs ## file NEON-DS-Airborne-Remote-Sensing/HARV/DSM/HARV_dsmCrop.tif ## apparent band summary: ## GDType hasNoDataValue NoDataValue blockSize1 blockSize2 ## 1 Float64 TRUE -9999 1 1697 ## apparent band statistics: ## Bmin Bmax Bmean Bsd ## 1 305.07 416.07 359.8531 17.83169 ## Metadata: ## AREA_OR_POINT=Area
Notice a few things in the output:
- A projection is described using a string in the
+proj=utm +zone=18 +datum=WGS84 +units=m +no_defs
- We can identify a
- We can tell how many
bandsthe file contains: 1
- We can view the x and y
resolutionof the data: 1
- We can see the min and max values of the data:
It is ideal to use
GDALinfo to explore your file before reading it into
Challenge: Explore Raster Metadata
Without using the
raster function to read the file into
R, determine the
following about the
- Does this file has the same
- What is the
- What is resolution of the raster data?
- How large would a 5x5 pixel area would be on the Earth’s surface?
- Is the file a multi- or single-band raster?
Notice: this file is a
hillshade. We will learn about hillshades in
Work with Multi-band Rasters: Images in R.