Latitude and longitude

Lines of latitude and longitude are used to locate places accurately on the Earth's surface.

Diagram of Earth showing the lines of latitude and longitude, including the equator and the prime meridian.


Lines of latitude circle the Earth in an east-west direction. They are parallel.

They are different lengths, eg:

  • the equator is 40,075 km long
  • the Antarctic circle is 17,662 km long
  • the South Pole is 0 km long

Important lines of latitude:

  • the equator (0°)
  • the Tropic of Cancer (23.5° north)
  • the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5° south)
  • the Arctic circle (66.5° north)
  • the Antarctic circle (66.5° south)
  • the North Pole (90° north)
  • the South Pole (90° south)


Lines of longitude run from the top of the Earth to the bottom. They are not parallel as lines of latitude are - they meet at a point at the north and south poles and are called meridians.

They divide the Earth into segments, like an orange. Some important details about these lines include:

  • The line which runs through Greenwich in London is called the Greenwich Meridian or Prime Meridian. The Prime Meridian is 0° longitude.
  • The Earth is then divided into 180° east and 180° west.
  • The International Date Line lies at 180° east/west.

The index of an atlas gives shows where places can be found, eg Birmingham, UK - 52° north 1° west. This means that Birmingham is located at approximately latitude 52 north and longitude 1 west.