How to Find Locations Using Latitude & Longitude

How to Find Locations Using Latitude & LongitudeLatitude and longitude are fundamental terms in navigation. Their coordinates can be used to determine any point on the globe, and even in the modern era of GPS navigation, the system is still the basic model for telling people where they are, where other things are, and where they're going. The numbers can be a little complicated, but once understood, the system is easy.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • GPS receiver
  • Map with latitude and longitude
  • Ruler
Step 1
Latitude is a measurement of how far north or south you are, and on a map these lines will run horizontally, on the east-to-west axis. Longitudinal lines are the ones running vertically, on a north-to-south axis, and are measure of how far east or west you are. The meridians (or "zero points") for these lines are the equator for latitude and Greenwich, England, for longitude. So, for example, German coordinates are plotted as being longitude east, Irish coordinates as longitude west, and both as latitude north.
Step 2
Know the code system. The two major ways of reading latitude and longitude are the minutes-seconds system, or the decimal system. The minutes and seconds system divides degrees of latitude and longitude into parts of 60, while the decimal system uses parts of 100. The decimal system is usually easier for newcomers to map coordinates. An example of both is the U.S. Capitol building, which is at 38°53'23"N (38 degrees, 53 minutes, 23 seconds north of the equator), 77°00'27"W. In decimal form, that is 38.889722 N and 77.0075 W.
Step 3
Look at your GPS receiver to determine your position in latitude and longitude. Most GPS receivers come with this system of measurement as their factory default setting, so you likely will not even need to change anything to do this.
Step 4
Look at the location of where you want to go on the map. Each degree line of latitude and longitude should be marked and, depending on the scale, that could be 10, five or 0.5 degrees. Use the lines and scale to determine the coordinates of your location. A ruler will be helpful in doing this. There are specially made coordinate rulers, but these are set to specific scales, so you will need a new one for any scale change in maps. A handier way for casual use it to use a ruler and make an measurement from there. For example, if one degree equals one inch, you can make determinations based on fractions therein.
Step 5
Make sure your bearings are good. GPS receivers will also indicate which way is north, making this easy.
Step 6
Use your bearings and the map coordinates of where you want to go to determine your route. If you become worried that you might have taken a wrong turn, use the coordinates supplied by the GPS receiver and the map to establish your current location.

Tips & Warnings

Longitude and latitude can also be used to estimate distance. One degree of either represents about 69.2 miles.

Article Written By Edwin Thomas

Edwin Thomas has been writing since 1997. His work has appeared in various online publications, including The Black Table, Proboxing-Fans and others. A travel blogger, editor and writer, Thomas has traveled from Argentina to Vietnam in pursuit of stories. He holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University.

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