Couldn't find element LayerAd

Error finding content

Latitude and Longitude - Windows to the Universe

Shop Windows to the Universe

Science, Evolution, and Creationism, by the National Academies, focuses on teaching evolution in today's classrooms. Check out the other publications in our online store.
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 standard, geographic coordinates called latitude and longitude. These coordinates are measured in degrees and represent angular distances calculated from the center of the Earth. On maps and globes, these are drawn as imaginary lines of latitude and longitude and help us determine locations.

Latitude describes the distance from the Earth's equator and is measured in angular degrees, with 0 degrees being the equator. The North Pole is +90 degrees and the South Pole is -90 degrees. Latitude is also described as being either “North” or “South,” depending on the position in relationship to the equator. Positive latitude values are indicated by “North” and negative values are indicated by “South." The equator divides the Earth into Northern and Southern Hemispheres. A line connecting all the points with the same latitude value is called a line of latitude.

Longitude is the angular measurement either east or west from the Prime Meridian, a line of longitude which runs between the poles and through Greenwich, England. Lines of longitude run perpendicular to lines of latitude. 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. Positive longitude values are also indicated by “East” and negative values are indicated by “West." The Prime Meridian divides the Earth into Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Why a line 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.

Here's an example of the latitude and longitude of a specific location. New York, NY, USA has a latitude of 40.75793 degrees (north) and a longitude of -73.98551 (west). This means New York, NY is approximately 41 degrees north of the equator and approximately 74 degrees west of the Prime Meridian.

A region's latitude has a great effect on its climate because latitude determines the amount of solar energy a region receives. Low latitude locations, on or near the equator, are called the tropics. It's warm there because roughly the same amount of sunlight is received year-round. High latitude locations, at or near the poles, have a cold, polar climate. The closer you are to one of Earth's poles, the less sunlight there is during winter days. Mid-latitude climates in the areas between the tropics and polar regions are often characterized by having several distinct seasons throughout the year because the amount of sunlight changes from summer to winter.

We use longitude to determine time zones on Earth. The Earth is a sphere that has 360 degrees, and it makes a complete rotation every day. Every 15 degrees of longitude on Earth represents a different time zone.

Last modified July 23, 2008 by Becca Hatheway.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes books on science education, ranging from evolution, classroom research, and the need for science and math literacy!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Climate Changes with Latitude

Latitude determines the amount of sunlight received. The amount of sunlight and the amount of moisture received determines the ecosystem or biome. Listed below are the types of ecosystems that exist in...more

Cloud Heights at Different Latitudes

Different types of clouds can be found at different heights in the sky. In addition to cloud type determining its height, latitude plays a role in how high a cloud is in the sky. Most clouds we see, including...more

Surface Ocean Currents

The water at the ocean surface is moved primarily by winds. Large scale winds move in specific directions because they are affected by Earth’s spin and the Coriolis Effect. Because Earth spins constantly,...more

Tools for Math and Science

Some concepts are used in many different fields of science and serve as a general purpose "toolbox" that helps us understand and manipulate ideas across disciplines. These "tools for math and science"...more

Winds in the Southeast Pacific

Winds in the Southeast Pacific have a strong influence on regional climate and play an important role in several large-scale, global climate phenomena. The Hadley cell is a global atmospheric circulation...more

Outflow from World's Largest River – The Amazon – Powers Atlantic Ocean Carbon “Sink”

Nutrients from the Amazon River's outflow spread well beyond the continental shelf and drive carbon cycling in the tropical ocean, say scientists who conducted a multi-year study. They will publish their...more

In Alaska's Forests, Dried Mushrooms to the Rescue?

The fight against climate warming has an unexpected ally: mushrooms growing in dry spruce forests covering Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and other northern regions, according to new research. Results of...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF