Latitude

In geography, latitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the north–south position of a point on the Earth's surface. Latitude is an angle (defined below) which ranges from 0° at the Equator to 90° (North or South) at the poles. Lines of constant latitude, or parallels, run east–west as circles parallel to the equator. Latitude is used together with longitude to specify the precise location of features on the surface of the Earth. Without qualification the term latitude should be taken to be the geodetic latitude as defined in the following sections. Also defined are six auxiliary latitudes which are used in special applications. There is a separate article on the History of latitude measurements.

Two levels of abstraction are employed in the definition of latitude and longitude. In the first step the physical surface is modelled by the geoid, a surface which approximates the mean sea level over the oceans and its continuation under the land masses. The second step is to approximate the geoid by a mathematically simpler reference surface. The simplest choice for the reference surface is a sphere, but the geoid is more accurately modelled by an ellipsoid. The definitions of latitude and longitude on such reference surfaces are detailed in the following sections. Lines of constant latitude and longitude together constitute a graticule on the reference surface. The latitude of a point on the actual surface is that of the corresponding point on the reference surface, the correspondence being along the normal to the reference surface which passes through the point on the physical surface. Latitude and longitude together with some specification of height constitute a geographic coordinate system as defined in the specification of the ISO 19111 standard

The graticule is formed by the lines of constant latitude and constant longitude, which are constructed with reference to the rotation axis of the Earth. The primary reference points are the poles where the axis of rotation of the Earth intersects the reference surface. Planes which contain the rotation axis intersect the surface at the meridians; and the angle between any one meridian plane and that through Greenwich (the Prime Meridian) defines the longitude: meridians are lines of constant longitude. The plane through the centre of the Earth and perpendicular to the rotation axis intersects the surface at a great circle called the Equator. Planes parallel to the equatorial plane intersect the surface in circles of constant latitude; these are the parallels. The Equator has a latitude of 0°, the North Pole has a latitude of 90° North (written 90° N or +90°), and the South Pole has a latitude of 90° South (written 90° S or ?90°). The latitude of an arbitrary point is the angle between the equatorial plane and the radius to that point.

In 1687 Isaac Newton published the Philosophi? Naturalis Principia Mathematica, in which he proved that a rotating self-gravitating fluid body in equilibrium takes the form of an oblate ellipsoid. (This article uses the term ellipsoid in preference to the older term spheroid.) Newton's result was confirmed by geodetic measurements in the 18th century. (See Meridian arc.) An oblate ellipsoid is the three-dimensional surface generated by the rotation of an ellipse about its shorter axis (minor axis). "Oblate ellipsoid of revolution" is abbreviated to 'ellipsoid' in the remainder of this article. (Ellipsoids which do not have an axis of symmetry are termed triaxial.)

The definitions given in this section all relate to locations on the reference ellipsoid but the first two auxiliary latitudes, like the geodetic latitude, can be extended to define a three-dimensional geographic coordinate system as discussed below. The remaining latitudes are not used in this way; they are used only as intermediate constructs in map projections of the reference ellipsoid to the plane or in calculations of geodesics on the ellipsoid. Their numerical values are not of interest. For example, no one would need to calculate the authalic latitude of the Eiffel Tower.

The expressions below give the auxiliary latitudes in terms of the geodetic latitude, the semi-major axis, a, and the eccentricity, e. (For inverses see below.) The forms given are, apart from notational variants, those in the standard reference for map projections, namely "Map projections: a working manual" by J. P. Snyder. Derivations of these expressions may be found in Adams and online publications by Osborne and Rapp
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