GPS Tracking – What Is Latitude And Longitude

3 Aug 2011

Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of latitude and longitude: what it is, how it works, and its relation to the global positioning system (GPS) you use in your car, fleet, cell phone, or mobile tablet.

What it Is

Latitudes and longitudes are primarily denoted in degrees. However, when less than one degree, the increments may be expressed as minutes, seconds, or as a decimal. Overall, the coordinates are based on an imaginary grid of the earth, using the premise that the earth is a circle comprised of 360 degrees. Degrees can be further broken down into minutes in seconds, but these units represent measurements not time. Both lines of latitude and longitude run parallel to one another. Most commonly, anything south of the equator is depicted with negative latitude and anything west of the prime meridian is expressed as negative longitude.


  • Latitude lines measure north to south positions between the poles. While the equator is assigned as 0 degrees, the North Pole and South Pole are 90 degrees north and south, respectively. Therefore, latitude measures the number of degrees north or south of the equator. Latitudes are written with an “N” or “S”, depicting north or south.



  • Longitude lines, called meridians, measure the east and west positions. The prime meridian is expressed as 0 degrees, and is written with an “E” or “W”, depicting East or West. Longitude measures the number of degrees east or west of the prime meridian.


How it Works

Take the latitude and longitude reading for the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida: 28° 25′ 7″ N, 81° 34′ 52″ W. By unscrambling these coordinates, it is read as 28 degrees, 25 minutes, 7 minutes North and 81 degrees, 34 minutes, and 52 seconds West, where ° means “degrees”, ′ means “minutes”, and ” means “seconds”.

Sometimes the coordinates are expressed in decimals. In the above example, the latitude would be 28.418611 and longitude would be 81.581111, when expressed as a decimal. Although you can manually convert these decimal numbers back to minutes and seconds by multiplying by 60, it’s easier to just use one of the many latitude/longitude converters available online.

GPS Devices

Most GPS tracking device receivers are programmed to use latitude and longitude coordinates as their default position faculty setting, and are very accurate in reporting these coordinates. GPS receives constantly monitor satellites to determine the exact latitude and longitude coordinates. Further, most default GPS setting express location positions in degrees, minutes, and decimals, just like the Walt Disney World example above.



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