Plotting Latitude and Longitude

Map making, or cartography, was a serious, tedious, and often life-long craft back in the days when much of the world was still unexplored. These days, mapmaking is assisted by advanced tools, such as satellites, GPS, aerial photography, sensors, and many more. Latitude and longitude coordinates have continued to be invaluable in map-making. In fact, modern geolocation methods still make use of latitude and longitude data to generate maps.


Latitude and Longitude 101

If you remember your basic algebra and plotting points on the X and Y axes, then you already have a basic understanding of latitude (represented by the Y-axis) and longitude (represented by the X-axis). 

Because the world is spherical in shape, and not flat, imaginary latitude lines encircle the globe east-west and parallel to each other, with the main reference point as the equator — the zero latitude. Latitude lines, or parallels, that run above the equator (towards the North pole) are numbered from one to 90 degrees; parallels below the equator (towards the South pole) are numbered from -1 to -90 degrees. In short, latitude is the measurement of distance north and south of the equator. 

Imaginary longitude lines, on the other hand, have no natural zero reference point, so the Greenwich Observatory in London was assigned as the zero longitude, or the prime meridian. Longitude lines, or meridians, run around the earth from the North pole to the South pole and parallel to the prime meridian. Meridians to the east of the prime meridian are numbered from one to 180 degrees; meridians to the west of the prime meridian are numbered from -1 to -180 degrees. Longitude, therefore, is the measurement of distance east and west of the prime meridian.   

Using these imaginary lines, latitude and longitude number pairs — or coordinates — can be plotted on a map; the latitude always comes first, and the longitude comes second. Using a world map or a globe, for example, and plotting zero latitude (0 degrees) and -78.455833 longitude (-78.455833 degrees or -78 degrees and 456 minutes), you’ll arrive at the Mitad del Mundo in Quito, Ecuador. Plot 51.500833 latitude and -0.141944 longitude and you’ll arrive at Buckingham Palace, which is very near the Greenwich Observatory.  

Latitude and longitude coordinates are often represented simply as number pairs separated by a comma. The number pairs can be in the form of decimals or expressed in degrees and minutes.

Mapping Coordinates

If you have a list of coordinates that you want to map and you know how to code, you can directly use Google Map’s API to do it. Or you can simply copy and paste your list of coordinates on ShowMyMap’s map creation tool. 

If you have location data on a spreadsheet which includes coordinates and the latitude and longitude coordinates are together in the same column, the first thing you have to do is place them in separate columns. 

Follow these steps:

  1. Insert two new columns before/to the left of the coordinates column. Name these columns Latitude and Longitude, respectively. 
  2. To find and input the latitude coordinates into the latitude column, use this formula: =LEFT(F2, FIND(“,”, F2)-1). (Make sure the formula does not include the “.” when you copy and paste it.) F2 is column F row 2, or the first cell with the coordinates; the formula “finds” the value to the left of the comma. Copy the formula down the column.
  3. To find and input the longitude coordinates into the longitude column, use this formula: =RIGHT(F2, LEN(F2)-FIND(“,”, F2)). The formula “finds” the value to the right of the comma. Copy the formula down the column. 

Once you have separated the latitude and longitude coordinates, simply copy and paste your spreadsheet into ShowMyMap’s map-making tool. You’ll generate a map similar to this one:

Finding Latitude and Longitude Coordinates Using Addresses

If you need to find latitude and longitude coordinates and you have addresses, city names, postal/zip codes, and/or landmarks, you can convert these into their respective coordinates by using ShowMyMap’s batch geocoding tool. 

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