Timezones as shapefiles

Eric Muller emuller at adobe.com
Sun Sep 14 17:41:25 UTC 2008

Hancock, David (dhancock) wrote:
> Our group is relatively new to the tzdb and very new to GIS, but we do 
> know that having timezone boundaries as shapefiles would be very useful.
> Is there a comprehensive source for timezones as shapefiles? It looks 
> like a tremendous amount of work to do them--just wondering if it's 
> all (or mostly) done already.

To my knowledge, there is not yet a publicly available shapefile that 
covers all the tz timezones, but there are shapefiles that cover 
"modern" time zones.

As I alluded earlier, I am working on such a shapefile. There are three 
main difficulties:

- understand what a tz timezone is a about (e.g. Asia/Samarkand vs. 
Asia/Tashkent) in logical terms, typically in terms of administrative 

- locate source GIS material for administrative divisions, with the 
appropriate traceability and distribution rights. Traceability is 
important: anybody can put together a shapefile, but it does not do much 
good if we don't know the quality of the data (whatever it may be), etc. 
And of course distribution rights probably matter to some users.

- put everything together by a process that is automated enough so that 
new versions can be created easily, as new tz timezones are created, 
source material is corrected or the procedure itself is debugged.

Fortunately, the VMAP0 polbnda layer provides most of the administrative 
divisions we need, is a known quantity and has the most liberal 
distribution rights I have found. I have already converted that layer to 
a usable shapefile (http://efele.net/maps/vmap0/polbnda/). I also 
established the mapping to FIPS 10-4 codes at 
http://efele.net/maps/fips-10/ (the VMAP0 data only has names, which are 
a pain to manipulate). That still leaves a few cases where we needs 
boundaries not present in VMAP0:

- US: I have built a shapefile using various sources at 
- Canada: I have created a first cut that deals with all but a few 
little zones
- China: I posted that one yesterday at http://efele.net/maps/tz/ch/
- Russia: I have a shapefile for that one, built from the map at 
- Brazil: that one is easy (using the VMAP0 layer for rivers, and a bit 
of geometry)
- Australia: currently working on that one, does not seem too problematic
- a few tz timezones are easy to describe in geometric terms (e.g. 
isolating the Kwajalein atoll)

I also have a scheme to put everything back together with the VMAP0 
data, and obtain a single shapefile for the world. As soon as I have 
Australia in good enough shape, I'll publish it, along with the 
procedure and all the source material I used; I hope to do that within a 
week or two. Of course, there will be some bugs, which I will be happy 
to fix.


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