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Importing x,y data into ArcGIS

Importing a set of x,y coordinate pairs into ArcGIS is very straightforward, and can be a
useful skill if you need to bring in simple coordinate data that is not already in a spatial format.
1) Acquire some data you want to display on a map. The source doesnt matter: it might be
locations recorded on a GPS unit that you dont have a data cable for, coordinates determined
from a topographic map, or a simple data set found on the internet. If you want your locations
to integrate correctly with other layers (always a good thing in GIS) you will need to know
both the coordinate system and datum used by the source data, e.g. latitude / longitude and
NAD27.
2) Format your data properly. This may be done in a spreadsheet program such as Google
Spreadsheets <spreadsheets.google.com>, or the more ubiquitous Excel. To import properly
into ArcGIS, your data file will require a minimum of three fields: a unique identifier for each
data point, and the X (easting) and Y (northing) for each location. Other attribute data, if
available, may go into additional columns, but your points will import fine with just these
three pieces of information. Your file should also contain a header line that describes each
field. It might be as simple as ID, X_coord, Y_coord. Additional fields are OK, but
descriptions in each header are limited to seven characters and cannot have special characters
or spaces. If you need spacing for readability, use underscores.

Be

sure

if

you

are

using

latitude/longitude

coordinates

that

your northings are positive ifnorth of the equator and eastings are negative if you are in
the western hemisphere. Example: the coordinates for a location in Houghton, Michigan are 88.54820, 47.11535 inlatitude/longitude and 382552, 5219145 in UTM zone 16, NAD 1983
datum. Omitting the - sign will put your points on the wrong side of the globe.

If your coordinates are in latitude/longitude, they should be in decimal degrees (DD) format
before importing into ArcGIS. Locations in degrees, minutes and seconds (DMS) or decimal
minutes (DM) format should first be converted to DD. There are converters available on the
internet, but it is probably quicker to use Excel to perform the conversion.
D = Degrees M = Minutes S = Seconds .m = Decimal Minutes .s = Decimal Seconds
DM.m = Degrees, Minutes, Decimal Minutes (eg. 4522.6333)
D.d = Degrees, Decimal Degrees (eg. 45.3772)
DMS = Degrees, Minutes, Seconds (eg. 452238)
DMS > DM.m (452238 > 4522.6333)
Divide S by 60 to get .m (38/60=.6333)
Add .m to M to get M.m (22+.6333=22.6333)
DM.m > D.d (45 22.6333 > 45.3772)
Divide M.m by 60 to get .d (22.6333/60=.3772)
Add .d to D to get D.d (45+.3772=45.3772)
D.d > DM.m (45.3772 > 4522.6333
Multiply .d by 60 to get M.m (.3772*60=22.6333)
DM.m > DMS (4522.6333 > 452238)
Multiply .m by 60 to get S(.6333*60=38)
DMS>DD
D + M/60 + S/3600 = DD
3) Save/export your data as a comma-delimited text file (CSV format in Google Spreadsheets
or Excel). You may want to save a copy in native format (.xls in both Google spreadsheets
and Excel) before exporting to .csv.

4) Add your .csv file to ArcMap by using the Add data tool (either by expanding the

submenu under File> Add Data)

or by clicking the

Add Data tool on the Standard toolbar


5) Right-click on your new layer and choose Display XY Data Ensure that the X and Y
fields were selected correctly by ArcMap they should be right if you chose names that
reflect the coordinate positions (northing and easting or x and y). Click the Edit button,
then Select to select the coordinate system for your points, Add and OK (3x). The
correct coordinate system to use may be obtained from your GPS unit (under map setup or
units); from the marginal information on your topo map; or from the metadata file that came
with internet data. Look in geographic coordinate systems for latitude/longitude projection
files, or in projected coordinate systems > UTM for UTM data.
Some possible suggestions:

Coordinate

Systems

>

Geographic

Coordinate

Systems

>

World

>

WGS1984.prj (default GPS datum)

Coordinate Systems > Geographic Coordinate Systems > North America >
NAD1983.prj (current North American datum)

Coordinate Systems > Projected Coordinate Systems > UTM > NAD1983 > NAD
1983 UTM Zone 16N.prj (appropriate for most of the U.P.)

Coordinate Systems > Projected Coordinate Systems > State Systems > NAD 1983
Michigan GeoRef (Meters).prj (projection and datum used by the State of Michigan)

6) You should now have a point layer at the top of your Table of Contents with the same
name as your .csv file and the word Events on the end of the name.

This is an event theme and is a temporary layer. If you want a more permanent copy, rightclick on the layer and choose Data > Export Data Pick an output locationa geodatabase
feature class or a directory for a shapefileand enter a file name. Please change the name to
something other than the default Export_Output I suggest one that more accurately reflects
the contents of the data layer. Click OK.
You now have a permanent layer, either a geodatabase feature class or shapefile, of your
original ASCII (text) coordinates.