What Is the Distance Between a Degree of Latitude and Longitude?

Navigating the Earth, One Degree at a Time

Latitude and Longitude
Djexplo / Wikimedia Commons

In order to precisely locate a place in the world, we use a grid system that is measured in degrees of latitude and longitude. But how far is it from one degree of latitude to another? How are far east or west do we have to travel to reach the next degree of longitude?

These are very good questions and very common in the world of geography. In order to get the answer, we need to look at each piece of the grid separately.

What is the Distance Between Degrees of Latitude?

Degrees of latitude are parallel so, for the most part, the distance between each degree remains constant. However, the earth is slightly elliptical in shape and that creates a small variation between the degrees as we work our way from the equator to the north and south poles.

  • Each degree of latitude is approximately 69 miles (111 kilometers) apart.
  • At the equator, the distance is 68.703 miles (110.567 kilometers).
  • At the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn (23.5° north and south), the distance is 68.94 miles (110.948 kilometers).
  • At each of the poles, the distance is 69.407 miles (111.699 kilometers).

This is rather convenient when you want to know how far it is between each degree, no matter where you are on Earth. All you need to know is that each minute (1/60th of a degree) is approximately one mile.

For example, if we were at 40° north, 100° west we would be on the Nebraska-Kansas border. If we were to go directly north to 41° north, 100° west, we would have traveled about 69 miles and would now be near Interstate 80.

What is the Distance Between Degrees of Longitude?

Unlike latitude, the distance between degrees of longitude varies greatly. They are farthest apart at the equator and converge at the poles.

  • A degree of longitude is widest at the equator with a distance of 69.172 miles (111.321 kilometers).
  • The distance gradually shrinks to zero as they meet at the poles.
  • At 40° north or south*, the distance between a degree of longitude is 53 miles (85 kilometers).

*Where is 40° north and south?

  • 40° north runs through the middle of the United States and China as well as Turkey and Spain. 
  • 40° south is south of Africa, goes through the southern part of Chile and Argentina, and runs almost directly through the center of New Zealand.

How Do I Know How Far It Is From One Point to Another?

What if you are given two coordinates for latitude and longitude and you need to know how far it is between the two locations? You could use what is known as a 'haversine' formula to calculate the distance, but unless you are a whiz at trigonometry, it is not easy.

Luckily, in today's digital world, computers can do the math for us.

Keep in mind that you can also find the precise latitude and longitude of a location using a map application. In Google Maps, for example, you can simply click on a location and a pop-up window will give latitude and longitude data to a millionth of a degree. Similarly, if you right click on a location in MapQuest you will get the latitude and longitude data.

Article edited by Allen Grove, September, 2016