This lesson is in the early stages of development (Alpha version)

Convert from .csv to a Shapefile in Python


Teaching: 40 min
Exercises: 20 min
  • How can I import CSV files as shapefiles in Python?

  • Import .csv files containing x,y coordinate locations as a GeoDataFrame.

  • Export a spatial object to a .shp file.

import pandas as pd
import geopandas as gpd
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
# Learners will have this data loaded from earlier episodes
lines_HARV = gpd.read_file("data/NEON-DS-Site-Layout-Files/HARV/HARV_roads.shp")
aoi_boundary_HARV = gpd.read_file("data/NEON-DS-Site-Layout-Files/HARV/HarClip_UTMZ18.shp")
country_boundary_US = gpd.read_file("data/NEON-DS-Site-Layout-Files/US-Boundary-Layers/US-Boundary-Dissolved-States.shp")
point_HARV = gpd.read_file("data/NEON-DS-Site-Layout-Files/HARV/HARVtower_UTM18N.shp")

Things You’ll Need To Complete This Episode

See the lesson homepage for detailed information about the software, data, and other prerequisites you will need to work through the examples in this episode.

This episode will review how to import spatial points stored in .csv (Comma Separated Value) format into Python as a geopandas GeoDataFrame. We will also reproject data imported from a shapefile format, export this data as a shapefile, and plot raster and vector data as layers in the same plot.

Spatial Data in Text Format

The HARV_PlotLocations.csv file contains x, y (point) locations for study plot where NEON collects data on vegetation and other ecological metrics. We would like to:

Spatial data are sometimes stored in a text file format (.txt or .csv). If the text file has an associated x and y or lat and lon location column, then we can convert the tabular text file into a geopandas.GeoDataFrame. This will have a column containing the point geometry. The GeoDataFrame allows us to store both the x,y values that represent the coordinate location of each point and the associated attribute data - or columns describing each feature in the spatial object.

We will continue using the pandas, geopandas and rasterio packages in this episode.

Import .csv

To begin let’s import a .csv file that contains plot coordinate x, y locations at the NEON Harvard Forest Field Site (HARV_PlotLocations.csv) and look at the structure of that new object:

plot_locations_HARV = pd.read_csv("data/NEON-DS-Site-Layout-Files/HARV/HARV_PlotLocations.csv")

We now have a data frame that contains 21 locations (rows) and 16 variables (attributes). Next, let’s explore the DataFrame to determine whether it contains columns with coordinate values. If we are lucky, our .csv will contain columns labeled:

Let’s check out the column names of our DataFrame.


Identify X,Y Location Columns

Our column names include several fields that might contain spatial information. The plot_locations_HARV["easting"] and plot_locations_HARV["northing"] columns contain coordinate values. We can confirm this by looking at the first five rows of our data.



We have coordinate values in our data frame. In order to convert our DataFrame to a GeoDataFrame, we also need to know the CRS associated with those coordinate values.

There are several ways to figure out the CRS of spatial data in text format.

  1. We can infer from the range of numbers in the coordinate column if the values represent latitude/longitude (in which case, we can use a WGS84 projection) or another coordinate system.
  2. If the values are not in latitude/longitude, we can check the file metadata, which may be in a separate file or listed somewhere in the text file itself. The file header or separate data columns are possible locations for CRS related storing metadata.

Following the easting and northing columns, there is a geodeticDa and a utmZone column. These appear to contain CRS information (datum and projection). Let’s view those next.


The geodeticDa and utmZone columns contain the information that helps us determine the CRS:

In When Vector Data Don’t Line Up - Handling Spatial Projection & CRS in Python we learned about the components of a proj4 string. We have everything we need to assign a CRS to our data frame.

To create the proj4 associated with UTM Zone 18 WGS84 we can look up the projection on the Spatial Reference website, which contains a list of CRS formats for each projection. From here, we can extract the proj4 string for UTM Zone 18N WGS84.

However, if we have other data in the UTM Zone 18N projection, it’s much easier to use the .crs method to extract the CRS in proj4 format from that GeoDataFrame and assign it to our new GeoDataFrame. We’ve seen this CRS before with our Harvard Forest study site (point_HARV).

The output above shows that the points shapefile is in UTM zone 18N. We can thus use the CRS from that spatial object to convert our non-spatial DataFrame into an GeoDataFrame with point geometry.

Next, let’s create a crs object that we can use to define the CRS of our GeoDataFrame when we create it.

utm18nCRS =

.csv to GeoDataFrame

Next, let’s convert our DataFrame into a GeoDataFrame To do this, we need to specify:

  1. The columns containing X (easting) and Y (northing) coordinate values
  2. The CRS that the column coordinate represent (units are included in the CRS) - stored in our utmCRS object.

We will use the points_from_xy() function to perform the conversion.

plot_locations_HARV_gdf = gpd.GeoDataFrame(plot_locations_HARV, geometry=gpd.points_from_xy(plot_locations_HARV.easting, plot_locations_HARV.northing), crs=utm18nCRS)

We should double check the CRS to make sure it is correct.

Plot Spatial Object

We now have a GeoDataFrame, we can plot our newly created spatial object.

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
plt.title("Map of Plot Locations")

plot of points

Plot Extent

In Open and Plot Shapefiles in Python we learned about GeoDataFrame extent. When we plot several spatial layers in Python using matplotlib, all of the layers of the plot are considered in setting the boundaries of the plot. To show this, let’s plot our aoi_boundary_HARV object with our vegetation plots.

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
aoi_boundary_HARV.plot(ax=ax, facecolor="None", edgecolor="orange")
plt.title("AOI Boundary Plot")

plot of aoi and points

Challenge - Import & Plot Additional Points

We want to add two phenology plots to our existing map of vegetation plot locations.

Import the .csv: data/NEON-DS-Site-Layout-Files/HARV/HARV_2NewPhenPlots.csv and do the following:

  1. Find the X and Y coordinate locations. Which value is X and which value is Y?
  2. These data were collected in a geographic coordinate system (WGS84). Convert the dataframe into an geopandas.GeoDataFrame.
  3. Plot the new points with the plot location points from above. Be sure to add a legend. Use a different symbol for the 2 new points!


First we read in the phenology data as a DataFrame then display some relevant metadata.

newplot_locations_HARV = pd.read_csv("data/NEON-DS-Site-Layout-Files/HARV/HARV_2NewPhenPlots.csv")

We see that decimalLon and decimalLat are the relevant X, Y coordinate locations, respectively. Next we create a variable to store coordinate reference information for the phenology points (same as country_boundary_US GeoDataFrame)

geogCRS =

Then we convert from the DataFrame to a GeoDataFrame by using the points_from_xy method and specifying the crs of the point data.

newplot_locations_HARV_gdf = gpd.GeoDataFrame(newplot_locations_HARV, geometry=gpd.points_from_xy(newplot_locations_HARV.decimalLon, newplot_locations_HARV.decimalLat), crs=geogCRS)

Finally, we display plot_locations and phenology data on the same matplotlib figure. Furthermore, we project the phenology data to match the coordinate reference system of plot_locations_HARV_gdf. This is accomplished using the to_crs method.

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
newplot_locations_HARV_gdf.to_crs(, color="orange")
plt.title("Map of All Plot Locations")

plot of phenology points and points

Key Points

  • Know the projection (if any) of your point data prior to converting to a spatial object.

  • This projection information can be used to convert a text file with spatial columns into a shapefile (or GeoJSON) with geopandas.