How to Find a Property by Coordinates
By Jennifer Spirko
The earth is divided into imaginary gridlines: longitude (north-south) and latitude (east-west). The U.S. National Atlas explains that geographic coordinates pinpoint a location’s position in terms of latitude and longitude expressed as degrees. Because the earth is a circle, it has 360 degrees. Zero degrees latitude is the equator, and zero degrees longitude is the Prime Meridian, which runs through Greenwich, England. Geographers subdivide each degree into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 seconds for more precision. The same degree symbol for temperature stands for degree coordinates, with an apostrophe for minutes and a quotation mark as seconds.
Determine the coordinates you are trying to find. You may use Google Maps, reference books or government surveys to obtain the coordinates. (See Tips.)
Type the coordinates into your mapping app, website or GPS.
Instruct the program or device to provide you with directions to the coordinates.
Follow the directions and map to the property.
- U.S. National Atlas: Latitude and Longitude
- Illinois Agricultural Extension, Illinois 4-H Mapmakers: Community Mapping, Converting Geographic Coordinates Manually
- U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Audio Division: Degrees, Minutes, Seconds and Decimal Degrees Latitude/Longitude Conversions
- Google Maps: Uluru
- Google Maps: House on the Rock
- If you do not know the coordinates of a location, you can use Google Maps or a similar application. In Google Maps, type the address or the name of the place into the search bar. When the result appears, right-click on the map marker and select “What’s here?” Google Maps will display the coordinates, either in a pop-up “info card” or at the top of the browser in the search bar.
- Mapping apps may give degrees in decimal form instead of dividing the degrees into minutes and seconds. Decimals are easier to express numerically and can be more precise. You can divide minutes by 60 and seconds by 3600, then add those results to the number of degrees to get decimal coordinates. If you do not want to convert the coordinates yourself, there are a number of converters available online, such as one provided by the Federal Communications Commission for determining specific broadcast coverage zones.
- Sometimes geographers use positive or negative coordinates instead of directional abbreviations for east, west, north and south. Negative latitude is south of the equator; negative longitude is west of the Prime Meridian. For example, the latitude of Uluru, in Australia, is 25° 20’ 42” S or -25° 20’ 42”. Expressed in decimal form, this is -25.349146. The longitude of the House on the Rock in Wisconsin is 90° 08’ 10” W or -90° 08’ 10”. Expressed in decimal form, this is -90.135058.
- Do not confuse degrees with distance. The actual amount of area covered by one degree of longitude changes the farther away you get from the equator, because the imaginary lines of longitude converge at the poles. The U.S. Army’s field manual on land navigation estimates that one degree of longitude at the equator covers about 111 kilometers and one second covers about 30 meters. In Washington, D.C., however, one second of longitude covers only 24 meters.
Jennifer Spirko has been writing professionally for more than 20 years, starting at "The Knoxville Journal." She has written for "MetroPulse," "Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times" and "Some" monthly. She has taught writing at North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. Spirko holds a Master of Arts from the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-on-Avon, England.