Centroids for Countries

I just added a new resource and updated another one on the resources page. I put together a file that contains the centroids (geographic centers) of all of the countries in the world, plus a few territories and dependencies. The centroids are in latitude and longitude coordinates based on WGS 84 in two formats: decimal degrees and degrees / minutes / seconds. It’s a tab delimited text file that you can open or import into any spreadsheet or database program. Each record is uniquely identified by a FIPS 10 code.

I downloaded most of the data from the NGA’s GeoNames Server (GNS). I blogged about the GNS awhile back, pointing out that you could query this gazetteer for individual places or you could download files that have all the features for each country in the world. While it took some time to figure out, you can actually take a middle road and query the database for specific categories of features that you can download. I used the text-based search and the links on the left side of the screen actually open different input boxes that you can use to query or exclude data. I managed to query top-level administrative units (countries) and to exclude most variant country names. After I downloaded the file, I still had to go in and do some clean-up, and I had to go back and get countries I missed by hand – these were mostly dependencies and territories that were excluded based on the search I did (Greenland, French Guiana, Netherlands Antilles, and a number of others).

Then I realized that the GNS excludes the United States and all of its territories. So, I went over to the USGS Geographic Names Information Service (GNIS) and grabbed the data for the US territories. The GNIS is simpler to navigate and you can download records pretty easily. They didn’t have a record for the United States as a whole, so I had to go over to the Census Bureau to get coordinates for the US centroid.

I brought all of these records into one file and placed it on the resources page for download, along with some metadata to describe it. Why would you want to use this stuff? You can use if for basic distance calculations, or as a annotated label field for label placement in GIS. More about that in my next post.

I also updated the country code cross-reference file that I took from the CIA World Factbook. You can use this as a bridge table to relate tables that use different identifiers. So if you wanted to join the fips-based centroid file to an iso-based shapefile of countries, you can join the centroids to the bridge first based on fips, and then that new table to the shapefile based on iso.

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