I'm new to QGIS, making the switch from ArcMap. I have 5 shapefiles of polygons representing 5 years of insect defoliation. I need to overlay the 5 years and create a new composite shapefile that is a union of all 5.

There are some areas where the polygons overlap from year to year and I want the polygons of the new composite shapefile to have an attribute field "Number_of_Yrs" which represent the total number of years of defoliation. The values of this field should be 1 to 5 years.

  • Maybe easier to realise using raster layers? Rasterize your polygons and use raster calculator.
    – Babel
    Commented Apr 2, 2021 at 22:53
  • Could you add an image showing what exactly you mean? Commented Apr 2, 2021 at 23:07
  • In ArcGIS, you'd Union the polys and encode based on the number of non-universe polygon ids (I'd use a DA Update Cursor, but the field calculator would do it)
    – Vince
    Commented Apr 3, 2021 at 3:03

1 Answer 1

  1. Convert the polygons to lines - Menu Vector / Geometry tools / Polygons to lines - use batch mode to convert all 5 polygons at once.

  2. Merge the line layers created in step 1 to one line layer using Menu Processing / Toolbox / Merge vector layers

  3. Create a new polygon layer that covers the maximum extent of all your original polygons. Use Menu Processing / Toolbox / Extract layer extent on the lines layer created in step 2.

  4. Now split the polygon created in step 3 with the lines from step 2 using Menu Processing / Toolbox / Split with lines

  5. You will get a new layer where each the original polygons are split up to several polygons, one for each category: no overlap with other polygons, overlapping with one, with two polygons etc. Create a new attribute with field calculator that counts the number of orginal polygons that overlap using the following expression (explanation below).

Remark: In line 3, in paranthesis insert the names of the layers that contain your original polygons. In my case, they are named layer1,layer2 etc. - don't forget the single quotes ' around the layer names.

    array_foreach (
    array ('layer1','layer2','layer3','layer4','layer5'),
                point_on_surface( $geometry),  
        then 1
        else 0

Explanation: the expression creates a point inside the splitted polygons (point_on_surface( $geometry)) from step 4 and then for each of your original layers loops through (using array_foreach) an expression that looks if (case when) this point is within (line 6) layer1, layer2 etc.: the aggregate() function on line 8 to 12 that takes the layer-name for each loop from @element: this refers to the arguments of the array() in line 3. Each time the point is within the polygon, the output value is set to 1, otherwiese to 0 (line 14-15). The output is an array like e.g. [ 0, 1, 0, 1, 1 ]. So now just get the sum of the elements contained in the array with array_sum( ) and you get: 3 (in this example.

Screenshot: the result for 5 polygons (outlined in different colors). The label indicates for each splitted part how many polygons overlap there: enter image description here

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