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Latitude and Longitude - Windows to the Universe

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On this image of the Earth, the horizontal (blue) lines represent lines of latitude and the vertical (pink) lines represent lines of longitude. The horizontal gray line represents the equator and the vertical gray line represents the Prime Meridian; both of these lines represent 0 degrees. The North Pole, at the top of the image, is where all of the lines of longitude come together.
Click on image for full size
Image Courtesy of Dennis Ward/UCAR

# Latitude and Longitude

The most common way to locate points on the surface of the Earth is by using lines on a map or globe called lines of latitude and longitude.

Latitude describes the location of a place north or south of the equator. The North Pole is +90 degrees and the South Pole is -90 degrees. A line connecting all the points with the same latitude value is called a line of latitude.

Longitude describes the location of a place east or west from the Prime Meridian, a line which runs between the poles and through Greenwich, England. Longitude increases as you leave the Prime Meridian (0 degrees) going east (0 to 180 degrees) and decreases as you head west (0 to -180 degrees), until they meet at 180 degrees. Why does the Prime Meridian go through Greenwich, England? It could be anywhere, but in the mid-1800s the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England was well known for keeping time, and because the time is the same all along that line of longitude, it was decided that the Prime Meridian would go through Greenwich.

Latitude has a big effect on climate because latitude controls how much solar energy a location receives. The tropics, which are places on or near the equator, are warm all year long because they get about the same amount of sunlight during the year. The polar regions, which include places at or near the poles, have a cold climate and don't get much (if any) sunlight on winter days. The area between the tropics and the poles is called the mid-latitudes. The mid-latitudes have several different seasons during the year because the amount of sunlight changes from summer to winter.

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## Climate Changes with Latitude

Places far from the equator receive less sunlight than places close to the equator. The amount of sunlight and the amount of precipitation affects the types of plants and animals that can live in a place....more

## Cloud Heights at Different Latitudes

Different types of clouds can be found at different heights in the sky. Latitude also plays a role in how high a cloud is in the sky. Most clouds we see, including clouds that are related to weather, are...more

## Surface Ocean Currents

The water at the ocean surface is moved by powerful wind. The wind is able to move the top 400 meters of the ocean. This moving water is called surface ocean currents. Surface ocean currents form large...more

## Winds in the Southeast Pacific

The winds in the Southeast Pacific mainly blow from south to north. They affect the weather and climate in the region. They also affect the climate in other places around the world. Air near the equator...more

## Ocean-Atmosphere Coupling in the Southeast Pacific

There are many connections between the ocean and the atmosphere in the Southeast Pacific Ocean. Strong winds blow north along the coast of South America. These winds stir up the ocean. That brings cold...more

## Universal Time

When it is noon where you live, it is midnight on the opposite side of the world. Usually when we think of time, we mean "the time of day where I live". If we say something happened at 9 AM, we mean it...more

## Regional Climate

The average temperature, precipitation, and winds at a location determine its regional climate. These average weather conditions are determined by factors including the latitude and altitude of the region,...more

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