Calculating distances using lat-long coordinates

Author: Elspeth Ready
Date: 2016/01/19

These functions can be used to calculate the great circle distance (i.e., the shortest distance across a sphere) between points on the Earth. Function distance calculates the distance (to the nearest meter) between two points from latitude and longitude points in decimal degrees (not minutes/seconds). Function distmat takes a vector of place names with associated vectors of decimal degree latitudes and longitudes, and returns a matrix with the distance between all of the points. This is very useful for using distance as a predictor of ties in a network, for example.

Disclaimer: The distance calculations here do not account for altitude, so user beware! Also, somewhat different formulae may be more appropriate for different applications.


distance <- function(lat1, lon1, lat2, lon2) {
  radlat1 = pi * lat1/180
  radlat2 = pi * lat2/180
  radlon1 = pi * lon1/180
  radlon2 = pi * lon2/180
  theta = lon1-lon2
  radtheta = pi * theta/180
  dist = sin(radlat1) * sin(radlat2) + cos(radlat1) * cos(radlat2) * cos(radtheta)
  dist = acos(pmin(dist, 1))
  dist = dist * 180/pi
  dist = dist * 60 * 1.1515 * 1609.344
  dist = round(dist, 0)
  return(dist)
}

distmat <- function(placenames, lats, lons) {
  proxmat <- matrix(nrow=length(placenames), ncol=length(placenames))
  colnames(proxmat) <-  rownames(proxmat) <- placenames
  for (i in 1:length(placenames)) {
      for (j in 1:length(placenames)) {
        lat1 <- lats[i]
        lon1 <- lons[i]
        lat2 <- lats[j]
        lon2 <- lons[j]
        proxmat[i,j] <- distance(lat1, lon1, lat2, lon2)
    }
  }
  return(proxmat)
}