I am not a GIS expert, and this change caused quite some errors in our analysis. So my question is, why this was changed: From rgdal 1.4.8 to 1.5.16, the +towgs84=0,0,0 disappeard in the output of sp::CRS.

I hope for an answer, which is comprehensive to a non-GIS-expert.

Reproducible example if you have NO sp and NO rgdal package installed:

packageurl <- "http://cran.r-project.org/src/contrib/Archive/sp/sp_1.4-1.tar.gz"
install.packages(packageurl, repos=NULL, type="source")
packageurl <- "http://cran.r-project.org/src/contrib/Archive/rgdal/rgdal_1.4-8.tar.gz"
install.packages(packageurl, repos=NULL, type="source")

# [1] ‘1.4.1’
# [1] ‘1.4.8’

sp::CRS("+proj=longlat +ellps=WGS84 +datum=WGS84 +no_defs")
# CRS arguments:
#   +proj=longlat +ellps=WGS84 +datum=WGS84 +no_defs +towgs84=0,0,0 

So everything works, that is in our case

spdf <- sp::SpatialPointsDataFrame(
  coords = mission_coords[, c(2,1)],
  data = mission_coords,
  proj4string = sp::CRS(
    "+proj=longlat +ellps=WGS84 +datum=WGS84 +no_defs"))
df_in <- sp::over(spdf , departement_boundaries , fn = NULL)

are ok. (I have problem to make a small reproducible example - the departement_boundaries from Zurich are open source, but its a huge string from dput.)

Now, update both packages

# also installing the dependency ‘sp’
# [1] ‘1.4.2’
# [1] ‘1.5.16’

and in any case +towgs84=0,0,0 is missing now:

sp::CRS("+proj=longlat +ellps=WGS84 +datum=WGS84 +no_defs",
        doCheckCRSArgs = TRUE)
# CRS arguments: +proj=longlat +datum=WGS84 +no_defs 
sp::CRS("+proj=longlat +ellps=WGS84 +datum=WGS84 +no_defs",
        doCheckCRSArgs = FALSE) # ... +ellps=WGS84 is added...(?)
# CRS arguments: +proj=longlat +ellps=WGS84 +datum=WGS84 +no_defs 

Any ideas for an explanation to a GIS-newbie?

@EdzerPebesma’s answer helped me find R spatial follows GDAL and PROJ development to get information:

x <- sp::CRS("+init=epsg:4326")
cat(comment(x), "\n")

One comment from that site is really unclear to me (perhaps how this relates to +towgs84=?):

  • rgdal generates many warnings about discarded PROJ string keys,
    -> See e.g. Warnung in showSRID(uprojargs, format = "PROJ", multiline = "NO") Discarded datum WGS_1984 in CRS definition, but +towgs84= values preserved from here?
  • intended to alert package maintainers and script authors to the need to review code.
    -> To me it is not clear, what I have to do, see the link above.
  • It is particularly egregious to assign to the CRS object projargs slot directly, and this is unfortunately seem in much code in packages.
    -> Again, what should I do instead?

1 Answer 1


The underlying library, PROJ, has changed dramatically over the past few years, and this is a consequence. The time has come to stop using proj.4 strings. See also this blog post https://www.r-spatial.org/r/2020/03/17/wkt.html which announced upcoming changes to r-spatial.

  • 2
    This is quite exciting and I have been rewriting code to accommodate this change to WKT. But, how mature is this new deployment of PROJ/GDAL across other spatial packages (ie., sp, raster)? Can we just start retooling our packages to incorporate WKT projections with any spatial object and projection operation outside of sf >0.9? Are there helper functions such as sp::is.projected and ways to compare projections for validation that will work with the new format? Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 15:52
  • 1
    Perhaps, you also know the answer here? To me it is really unclear, what I have to do, in order to improve my packages. See my edit after I read your link. (I am struggling with the implications of "stop using proj.4 strings".)
    – Christoph
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 17:16
  • To Jeffrey: sp and rgdal follow this (actually rgdal has pioneered this); the raster author has been informed, but I believe raster still uses on proj4 strings to define CRSs. Not sure what terra does. Please follow r-sig-geo for news on sf, sp and rgdal. Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 16:50

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