Difference between Latitude and Longitude

February 22, 2016 by Editorial Team

When talking about latitude and longitude, it’s like talking about the x and y axis, only it’s about the surface of the Earth. Both are used to locate coordinates that would specify an exact location, but what are their differences and why are they important?

Definitions

A globe illustration showing the latitude lines

Latitude – In geography, latitude is a geographic coordinate that identifies the north and south position of a point on the Earth’s surface. It is expressed through an angle that ranges from 0° to 90° at the equator from the North or South Pole. The lines of constant latitude, also known as parallels, run east-west as circles parallel to the equator. It is usually used together with longitude to pinpoint a precise location on the surface of the earth.

In English texts, latitude angle is generally denoted by a Greek lower-case letter phi (φ). Aside from degrees (°), it can also be measured in minutes and seconds, north or south of the equator.

Note: North and South are used to indicate the point of interest if it’s above the equator or below the equator.

longitude
A globe illustration showing the longitude lines

Longitude – In geography, longitude is a geographic coordinate that identifies the east and west position of a point on the Earth’s surface. It is expressed through an angle that ranges from 0° to 180°, positive (+) or negative (-). The lines of longitude, also known as meridians, run from the North Pole to the South Pole. Like latitude, it can pinpoint any specific location on the surface of the Earth as long as it’s used together with latitude.

Longitude is usually expressed in degrees and denoted by a Greek letter lambda (λ). Just as with latitude, it can also be measured in minutes and seconds, eastward or westward.

Comparison

While it may be similar to the x and y coordinates, latitude and longitude have differences that do not compare with them.

By simply looking at the diagrams above, we can safely say that one of their differences is that latitude lines are horizontal, while longitude lines are vertical. One more difference would be their unit measurements. While both can use degrees, minutes, or seconds to measure their coordinates, latitude can only measure up to 180° while longitude can measure up to 360°. This is because the distance from the North Pole to the South Pole does not require a complete 360° but instead only requires 180° (half a circle) , and thus latitude has a maximum of 180°. For longitude however, it does require a complete circle to cover the earth’s surface and thus has a complete 360°. Also, one notable difference between the lines of both latitude and longitude is that latitude lines are parallel to each other, while longitude lines meet at the North and South Pole.

Note: Each degree is sub-divided into 60 minutes, which again is divided into 60 seconds.

Comparison Chart

LatitudeLongitude
Lines run from West to EastLines run from North to South
Lines are ParallelLines are not parallel
Lines are called parallelsLines are called meridians
Measures up to 180°Measures up to 360°
Lines decrease in lengthAll Lines are of equal length
i.e. 48° 51′ 23.8104” Ni.e. 2° 21′ 7.9992” E

Video

You can watch the video below to help you read latitude and longitude coordinates.