Geographic coordinate conversion

In geodesy, conversion among different geographic coordinate systems is made necessary by the different geographic coordinate systems in use across the world and over time. Coordinate conversion is composed of a number of different types of conversion: format change of geographic coordinates, conversion of coordinate systems, or transformation to different geodetic datums. Geographic coordinate conversion has applications in cartography, surveying, navigation and geographic information systems.

In geodesy, geographic coordinate conversion is defined as translation among different coordinate formats or map projections all referenced to the same geodetic datum.[1] A geographic coordinate transformation is a translation among different geodetic datums. Both geographic coordinate conversion and transformation will be considered in this article.

This article assumes readers are already familiar with the content in the articles geographic coordinate system and geodetic datum.

Change of units and formatEdit

Informally, specifying a geographic location usually means giving the location's latitude and longitude. The numerical values for latitude and longitude can occur in a number of different units or formats:[2]

There are 60 minutes in a degree and 60 seconds in a minute. Therefore, to convert from a degrees minutes seconds format to a decimal degrees format, one may use the formula


To convert back from decimal degree format to degrees minutes seconds format,


Coordinate system conversionEdit

A coordinate system conversion is a conversion from one coordinate system to another, with both coordinate systems based on the same geodetic datum. Common conversion tasks include conversion between geodetic and earth-centered, earth-fixed (ECEF) coordinates and conversion from one type of map projection to another.

From geodetic to ECEF coordinatesEdit

The length PQ, called the prime vertical radius, is  . The length IQ is equal to  .  .

Geodetic coordinates (latitude  , longitude  , height  ) can be converted into ECEF coordinates using the following equation:[3]




and   and   are the equatorial radius (semi-major axis) and the polar radius (semi-minor axis), respectively.   is the square of the first numerical eccentricity of the ellipsoid. The prime vertical radius of curvature   is the distance from the surface to the Z-axis along the ellipsoid normal (see "Radius of curvature on the Earth").


The following equation holds for the longitude in the same way as in the geocentric coordinates system:


And the following equation holds for the latitude:


where  , as the parameter   is eliminated by subtracting





The orthogonality of the coordinates is confirmed via differentiation:




(see also "Meridian arc on the ellipsoid").

From ECEF to geodetic coordinatesEdit


The conversion of ECEF coordinates to geodetic coordinates (such WGS84) is the same as that of the geocentric one for the longitude:



The conversion for the latitude involves a bit complicated calculation and is known to be solved by using several methods shown as below. It is, however, sensitive to small accuracy due to   and   being maybe 106 apart.[4][5]

Newton–Raphson methodEdit

The following Bowring's irrational geodetic-latitude equation[6] is efficient to be solved by Newton–Raphson iteration method:[7][8]


where   The height is calculated as:


The iteration can be transformed into the following calculation:



The constant   is a good starter value for the iteration when  . Bowring showed that the single iteration produces a sufficiently accurate solution. He used extra trigonometric functions in his original formulation.

Ferrari's solutionEdit

The quartic equation of  , derived from the above, can be solved by Ferrari's solution[9][10] to yield:

The application of Ferrari's solutionEdit

A number of techniques and algorithms are available but the most accurate, according to Zhu,[11] is the following procedure established by Heikkinen,[12] as cited by Zhu. It is assumed that geodetic parameters   are known


Note: arctan2[Y, X] is the four-quadrant inverse tangent function.

Power seriesEdit

For small e2 the power series


starts with


Geodetic to/from ENU coordinatesEdit

To convert from geodetic coordinates to local tangent plane (ENU) coordinates is a two-stage process:

  1. Convert geodetic coordinates to ECEF coordinates
  2. Convert ECEF coordinates to local ENU coordinates

From ECEF to ENUEdit

To transform from ECEF coordinates to the local coordinates we need a local reference point. Typically, this might be the location of a radar. If a radar is located at   and an aircraft at  , then the vector pointing from the radar to the aircraft in the ENU frame is


Note:   is the geodetic latitude. A prior version of this page showed use of the geocentric latitude ( ). The geocentric latitude is not the appropriate up direction for the local tangent plane. If the original geodetic latitude is available, then it should be used; otherwise, the relationship between geodetic and geocentric latitude has an altitude dependency, and is captured by:


Obtaining geodetic latitude from geocentric coordinates from this relationship requires an iterative solution approach; otherwise, the geodetic coordinates may be computed via the approach in the section above labeled "From ECEF to geodetic coordinates."

The geocentric and geodetic longitude have the same value. This is true for Earth and other similar shaped planets because they have a large amount of rotational symmetry around their spin axis.


Note: Unambiguous determination of   and   requires knowledge of which quadrant the coordinates lie in.

From ENU to ECEFEdit

This is just the inversion of the ECEF to ENU transformation so


Conversion across map projectionsEdit

Conversion of coordinates and map positions among different map projections reference to the same datum may be accomplished either through direct translation formulas from one projection to another, or by first converting from a projection   to an intermediate coordinate system, such as ECEF, then converting from ECEF to projection  . The formulas involved can be complex and in some cases, such as in the ECEF to geodetic conversion above, the conversion has no closed-form solution and approximate methods must be used. References such as the DMA Technical Manual 8358.1[13] and the USGS paper Map Projections: A Working Manual[14] contain formulas for conversion of map projections. It is common to use computer programs to perform coordinate conversion tasks, such as with the DoD and NGA supported GEOTRANS program.[15]

Datum transformationsEdit

Transformations among datums can be accomplished in a number of ways. There are transformations that directly convert geodetic coordinates from one datum to another. There are more indirect transforms that convert from geodetic coordinates to ECEF coordinates, transform the ECEF coordinates from one datum to the another, then transform ECEF coordinates of the new datum back to geodetic coordinates. There are also grid-based transformations that directly transform from one (datum, map projection) pair to another (datum, map projection) pair.

Helmert transformationEdit

Use of the Helmert transform in the transformation from geodetic coordinates of datum   to geodetic coordinates of datum   occurs in the context of a three-step process:[16]

  1. Convert from geodetic coordinates to ECEF coordinates for datum  
  2. Apply the Helmert transform, with the appropriate   transform parameters, to transform from datum   ECEF coordinates to datum   ECEF coordinates
  3. Convert from ECEF coordinates to geodetic coordinates for datum  

In terms of ECEF XYZ vectors, the Helmert transform has the form[16]


The Helmert transform is a seven-parameter transform with three translation (shift) parameters  , three rotation parameters   and one scaling (dilation) parameter  . The Helmert transform is an approximate method that is accurate when the transform parameters are small relative to the magnitudes of the ECEF vectors. Under these conditions, the transform is considered reversible.[17]

A fourteen-parameter Helmert transform, with linear time dependence for each parameter,[17]:131-133 can be used to capture the time evolution of geographic coordinates dues to geomorphic processes, such as continental drift.[18] and earthquakes.[19] This has been incorporated into software, such as the Horizontal Time Dependent Positioning (HTDP) tool from the U.S. NGS.[20]

Molodensky-Badekas transformationEdit

To eliminate the coupling between the rotations and translations of the Helmert transform, three additional parameters can be introduced to give a new XYZ center of rotation closer to coordinates being transformed. This ten-parameter model is called the Molodensky-Badekas transformation and should not be confused with the more basic Molodensky transform.[17]:133-134

Like the Helmert transform, using the Molodensky-Badekas transform is a three-step process:

  1. Convert from geodetic coordinates to ECEF coordinates for datum  
  2. Apply the Molodensky-Badekas transform, with the appropriate   transform parameters, to transform from datum   ECEF coordinates to datum   ECEF coordinates
  3. Convert from ECEF coordinates to geodetic coordinates for datum  

The transform has the form[21]


where   is the origin for the rotation and scaling transforms and   is the scaling factor.

The Molodensky-Badekas transform is used to transform local geodetic datums to a global geodetic datum, such as WGS 84. Unlike the Helmert transform, the Molodensky-Badekas transform is not reversible due to the rotational origin being associated with the original datum.[17]:134

Molodensky transformationEdit

The Molodensky transformation converts directly between geodetic coordinate systems of different datums without the intermediate step of converting to geocentric coordinates (ECEF).[22] It requires the three shifts between the datum centers and the differences between the reference ellipsoid semi-major axes and flattening parameters.

The Molodensky transform is used by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in their standard TR8350.2 and the NGA supported GEOTRANS program.[23] The Molodensky method was popular before the advent of modern computers and the method is part of many geodetic programs.

Grid-based methodEdit

Magnitude of shift in position between NAD27 and NAD83 datum as a function of location.

Grid-based transformations directly convert map coordinates from one (map-projection, geodetic datum) pair to map coordinates of another (map-projection, geodetic datum) pair. An example is the NADCON method for transforming from the North American Datum (NAD) 1927 to the NAD 1983 datum.[24] The High Accuracy Reference Network (HARN), a high accuracy version of the NADCON transforms, have an accuracy of approximately 5 centimeters. The National Transformation version 2 (NTv2) is a Canadian version of NADCON for transforming between NAD 1927 and NAD 1983. HARNs are also known as NAD 83/91 and High Precision Grid Networks (HPGN).[25] Subsequently, Australia and New Zealand adopted the NTv2 format to create grid-based methods for transforming among their own local datums.

Like the multiple regression equation transform, grid-based methods use a low-order interpolation method for converting map coordinates, but in two dimensions instead of three. The NOAA provides a software tool (as part of the NGS Geodetic Toolkit) for performing NADCON transformations.[26][27]

Multiple regression equationsEdit

Datum transformations through the use of empirical multiple regression methods were created to achieve higher accuracy results over small geographic regions than the standard Molodensky transformations. MRE transforms are used to transform local datums over continent-sized or smaller regions to global datums, such as WGS 84.[28] The standard NIMA TM 8350.2, Appendix D,[29] lists MRE transforms from several local datums to WGS 84, with accuracies of about 2 meters.[30]

The MREs are a direct transformation of geodetic coordinates with no intermediate ECEF step. Geodetic coordinates   in the new datum   are modeled as polynomials of up to the ninth degree in the geodetic coordinates   of the original datum  . For instance, the change in   could be parameterized as (with only up to quadratic terms shown)[28]:9



  parameters fitted by multiple regression
  scale factor
  origin of the datum,  

with similar equations for   and  . Given a sufficient number of   coordinate pairs for landmarks in both datums for good statistics, multiple regression methods are used to fit the parameters of these polynomials. The polynomials, along with the fitted coefficients, form the multiple regression equations.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Roger Foster; Dan Mullaney. "Basic Geodesy Article 018: Conversions and Transformations" (PDF). National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  2. ^ "Coordinate transformer". Ordnance Survey Great Britain. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  3. ^ B. Hofmann-Wellenhof; H. Lichtenegger; J. Collins (1997). GPS - theory and practice. Section 10.2.1. p. 282. ISBN 3-211-82839-7.
  4. ^ R. Burtch, A Comparison of Methods Used in Rectangular to Geodetic Coordinate Transformations.
  5. ^ Featherstone, W. E.; Claessens, S. J. (2008). "Closed-Form Transformation between Geodetic and Ellipsoidal Coordinates". Stud. Geophys. Geod. 52 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1007/s11200-008-0002-6. hdl:20.500.11937/11589.
  6. ^ Bowring, B. R. (1976). "Transformation from Spatial to Geographical Coordinates". Surv. Rev. 23 (181): 323–327. doi:10.1179/003962676791280626.
  7. ^ Fukushima, T. (1999). "Fast Transform from Geocentric to Geodetic Coordinates". J. Geod. 73 (11): 603–610. doi:10.1007/s001900050271. (Appendix B)
  8. ^ Sudano, J. J. (1997). "An exact conversion from an earth-centered coordinate system to latitude, longitude and altitude". Proceedings of the IEEE 1997 National Aerospace and Electronics Conference. NAECON 1997. 2. pp. 646–650. doi:10.1109/NAECON.1997.622711. ISBN 0-7803-3725-5.
  9. ^ Vermeille, H., H. (2002). "Direct Transformation from Geocentric to Geodetic Coordinates". J. Geod. 76 (8): 451–454. doi:10.1007/s00190-002-0273-6.
  10. ^ Gonzalez-Vega, Laureano; PoloBlanco, Irene (2009). "A symbolic analysis of Vermeille and Borkowski polynomials for transforming 3D Cartesian to geodetic coordinates". J. Geod. 83 (11): 1071–1081. doi:10.1007/s00190-009-0325-2.
  11. ^ Zhu, J. (1994). "Conversion of Earth-centered Earth-fixed coordinates to geodetic coordinates". IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems. 30 (3): 957–961. doi:10.1109/7.303772.
  12. ^ Heikkinen, M. (1982). "Geschlossene formeln zur berechnung räumlicher geodätischer koordinaten aus rechtwinkligen koordinaten". Z. Vermess. (in German). 107: 207–211.
  13. ^ "TM8358.2: The Universal Grids: Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) and Universal Polar Stereographic (UPS)" (PDF). National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  14. ^ Snyder, John P. (1987). Map Projections: A Working Manual. USGS Professional Paper: 1395.
  15. ^ "MSP GEOTRANS 3.3 (Geographic Translator)". NGA: Coordinate Systems Analysis Branch. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  16. ^ a b "Equations Used for Datum Transformations". Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  17. ^ a b c d "Geomatics Guidance Note Number 7, part 2 Coordinate Conversions and Transformations including Formulas" (PDF). International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 March 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  18. ^ Bolstad, Paul. GIS Fundamentals, 4th Edition (PDF). Atlas books. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-9717647-3-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-02-02.
  19. ^ "Addendum to NIMA TR 8350.2: Implementation of the World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS 84) Reference Frame G1150" (PDF). National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  20. ^ "HTDP - Horizontal Time-Dependent Positioning". U.S. National Geodetic Survey (NGS). Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  21. ^ "Molodensky-Badekas (7+3) Transformations". National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  22. ^ "ArcGIS Help 10.1: Equation-based methods". ESRI. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  23. ^ "Datum Transformations". National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  24. ^ "ArcGIS Help 10.1: Grid-based methods". ESRI. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  25. ^ "NADCON/HARN Datum ShiftMethod". Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  26. ^ "NADCON - Version 4.2". NOAA. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  27. ^ Mulcare, Donald M. "NGS Toolkit, Part 8: The National Geodetic Survey NADCON Tool". Professional Surveyor Magazine. Archived from the original on 6 March 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  28. ^ a b User's Handbook on Datum Transformations Involving WGS 84 (PDF) (Report). Special Publication No. 60 (3rd ed.). Monaco: International Hydrographic Bureau. August 2008. Retrieved 2017-01-10.
  29. ^ "DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE WORLD GEODETIC SYSTEM 1984 Its Definition and Relationships with Local Geodetic Systems" (PDF). National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  30. ^ Taylor, Chuck. "High-Accuracy Datum Transformations". Retrieved 5 March 2014.