Building an earthquake map with RethinkDB and GeoJSON

RethinkDB 1.15 introduced new geospatial features that can help you plot a course for smarter location-based applications. The database has new geographical types, including points, lines, and polygons. Geospatial queries makes it easy to compute the distance between points, detect intersecting regions, and more. RethinkDB stores geographical types in a format that conforms with the GeoJSON standard.

Developers can take advantage of the new geospatial support to simplify the development of a wide range of potential applications, from location-aware mobile experiences to specialized GIS research platforms. This tutorial demonstrates how to build an earthquake map using RethinkDB’s new geospatial support and an open data feed hosted by the USGS.

Fetch and process the earthquake data

The USGS publishes a global feed that includes data about every earthquake detected over the past 30 days. The feed is updated with the latest earthquakes every 15 minutes. This tutorial uses a version of the feed that only includes earthquakes that have a magnitude of 2.5 or higher.

In the RethinkDB administrative console, use the r.http command to fetch the data:


The feed includes an array of geographical points that represent earthquake epicenters. Each point comes with additional metadata, such as the magnitude and time of the associated seismic event. You can see a sample earthquake record below:

  id: "ak11383733",
  type: "Feature",
  properties: {
    mag: 3.3,
    place: "152km NNE of Cape Yakataga, Alaska",
    time: 1410213468000,
    updated: 1410215418958,
  geometry: {
    type: "Point",
    coordinates: [-141.1103, 61.2728, 6.7]

The next step is transforming the data and inserting it into a table. In cases where you have raw GeoJSON data, you can typically just wrap it with the r.geojson command to convert it into native geographical types. The USGS earthquake data, however, uses a non-standard triple value for coordinates, which isn’t supported by RethinkDB. In such cases, or in situations where you have coordinates that are not in standard GeoJSON notation, you will typically use commands like r.point and r.polygon to create geographical types.

Using the merge command, you can iterate over earthquake records from the USGS feed and replace the value of the geometry property with an actual point object. The output of the merge command can be passed directly to the insert command on the table where you want to store the data:

    .merge(function(quake) {
      return {
        geometry: r.point(

The r.point command takes longitude as the first parameter and latitude as the second parameter, just like GeoJSON coordinate arrays. In the example above, the r.point command is passed the coordinate values from the earthquake object’s geometry property.

As you can see, it’s easy to load content from remote data sources into RethinkDB. You can even use the query language to perform relatively sophisticated data transformations on the fetched data before inserting it into a table.

Perform geospatial queries

The next step is to create an index on the geometry property. Use the indexCreate command with the geo option to create an index that supports geospatial queries:

r.table("quakes").indexCreate("geometry", {geo: true})

Now that there is an index, try querying the data. For the first query, try fetching a list of all the earthquakes that took place within 200 miles of Tokyo:

r.table('quakes').getIntersecting([139.69, 35.68], 200,
    {unit: "mi"}), {index: "geometry"})

In the example above, the getIntersecting command will find all of the records in the quakes table that have a geographic object stored in the geometry property that intersects with the specified circle. The command creates a polygon that approximates a circle with the desired radius and center point. The unit option tells the command to use a particular unit of measurement (miles, in this case) to compute the radius. The coordinates used in the above example correspond with the latitude and longitude of Tokyo.

Let’s say that you wanted to get the largest earthquake for each individual day. To organize the earthquakes by day, use the group command on the date. To get the largest from each day, you can chain the max command and have it operate on the magnitude property.


The USGS data uses timestamps that are counted in milliseconds since the UNIX epoch. In the query above, div(1000) is used to normalize the value so that it can be interpreted by the r.epochTime command. It’s also worth noting that commands chained after a group operation will automatically be performed on the contents of each individual group.

Build a simple API backend

The earthquake map application has a simple backend built with node.js and Express. It implements several API endpoints that client applications can access to fetch data. Create a /quakes endpoint, which returns a list of earthquakes ordered by magnitude:

var r = require("rethinkdb");
var express = require("express");

var app = express();
app.use(express.static(__dirname + "/public"));

var configDatabase = {
  db: "quake",
  host: "localhost",
  port: 28015

app.get("/quakes", function(req, res) {
  r.connect(configDatabase).then(function(conn) {
    this.conn = conn;

    return r.table("quakes").orderBy(
  .then(function(cursor) { return cursor.toArray(); })
  .then(function(result) { res.json(result); })
  .finally(function() {
    if (this.conn)


Add an endpoint called /nearest, which will take latitude and longitude values passed as URL query parameters and return the earthquake that is closest to the provided coordinates:

app.get("/nearest", function(req, res) {
  var latitude = req.param("latitude");
  var longitude = req.param("longitude");

  if (!latitude || !longitude)
    return res.json({err: "Invalid Point"});
  r.connect(configDatabase).then(function(conn) {
    this.conn = conn;

    return r.table("quakes").getNearest(
      r.point(parseFloat(longitude), parseFloat(latitude)),
      { index: "geometry", unit: "mi" }).run(conn);
  .then(function(result) { res.json(result); })
  .finally(function(result) {
    if (this.conn)

The r.point command in the code above is given the latitude and longitude values that the user included in the URL query. Because URL query parameters are strings, you need to use the pareFloat function (or a plus sign prefix) to coerce them into numbers. The query is performed against the geometry index.

In addition to returning the closest item, the getNearest command also returns the distance. When using the unit option in the getNearest command, the distance is converted into the desired unit of measurement.

Build a frontend with AngularJS and leaflet

The earthquake application’s frontend is built with AngularJS, a popular JavaScript MVC framework. The map is implemented with the Leaflet library and uses tiles provided by the OpenStreetMap project.

Using the AngularJS $http service, retrieve the JSON quake list from the node.js backend, create a map marker for each earthquake, and assign the array of earthquake objects to a variable in the current scope:

$scope.fetchQuakes = function() {
  $http.get("/quakes").success(function(quakes) {
    for (var i in quakes)
      quakes[i].marker = L.circleMarker(L.latLng(
        quakes[i].place.coordinates[0]), {
        radius: quakes[i].properties.mag * 2,
        fillColor: "#616161", color: "#616161"

    $scope.quakes = quakes;

To display the points on the map, use Angular’s $watchCollection to apply or remove markers as needed when a change is observed in the contents of the quakes array.

$ ="map").setView([0, 0], 2);
$, {attribution: mapAttrib}));

  function(addItems, removeItems) {
    if (removeItems && removeItems.length)
      for (var i in removeItems)

    if (addItems && addItems.length)
      for (var i in addItems)

You could just call $ in the fetchQuakes method to add markers directly as they are created, but using $watchCollection is more idiomatically appropriate for AngularJS—if the application adds or removes items from the array later, it will dynamically add or remove the corresponding place markers on the map.

The application also displays a sidebar with a list of earthquakes. Clicking on an item in the list will focus the associated point on the map. That part of the application was relatively straightforward, built with a simple ng-repeat that binds to the quakes array.

To complete the application, the last feature to add is support for plotting the user’s own location on the map and indicating which earthquake in the list is the closest to their position.

The HTML5 Geolocation standard introduced a browser method called geolocation.getCurrentPosition that provides coordinates of the user’s current location. In the callback for that method, assign the received coordinates to the userLocation variable in the current scope. Next, use the $http service to send the coordinates to the /nearest endpoint.

$scope.updateUserLocation = function() {
  navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(function(position) {
    $scope.userLocation = position.coords;

    $http.get("/nearest", {params: position.coords})
      .success(function(output) {
        if (output.length)
          $scope.nearest = output[0].doc;

To display the user’s position on the map, use $watch to observe for changes to the value of userLocation. When it changes, create a new place marker at the user’s coordinates.

$scope.$watch("userLocation", function(newVal, oldVal) {
  if (!newVal) return;
  if ($scope.userMarker)

  var point = L.latLng(newVal.latitude, newVal.longitude);
  $scope.userMarker = L.marker(point, {
    icon: L.icon({iconUrl: "mark.png"})


Put a pin in it

To view the complete source code, you can check out the repository on GitHub. To try the example, run npm install in the root directory and then execute the application by running node app.js.

To learn more about using geospatial queries in RethinkDB, check out the documentation. Geospatial support is only one of the great new features introduced in RethinkDB 1.15. Be sure to read the release announcement to get the whole story.