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Easting and Northing

Understanding Easting and Northing in Modern Mapping

Easting and northing are terms used in the context of geographic coordinate systems. They refer to a grid-based method of specifying locations on the surface of the Earth.


This refers to the eastward-measured distance (or the x-coordinate) from a north-south reference line, typically known as the prime meridian in the global context or another designated meridian in a local or regional context.

The term “easting” is derived from the direction “east”, indicating that as one moves eastwards from the reference line, the easting value increases. It’s analogous to the ‘x’ coordinate in a Cartesian coordinate system.


This is the northward-measured distance (or the y-coordinate) from an east-west reference line, commonly the equator in the global system, or a specific baseline in local map grids.

The term “northing” refers to the vertical coordinate, measured northward from an established east-west reference line, like the equator or another baseline. As you move north from this reference line, the northing value increases. It corresponds to the ‘y’ coordinate in a Cartesian system and is named for the northward direction of measurement.

Together, easting and northing provide a precise numerical method for pinpointing locations on a map, particularly useful in surveying, navigation, and geographic information systems (GIS). This system is often used in conjunction with a specific map projection to account for the Earth’s curvature when translating to a flat map.

False eastings and northings

False eastings and northings are modifications made to the standard easting and northing coordinate system to avoid negative coordinates and to simplify calculations. They are used in certain map projections and grid systems, particularly in the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) and State Plane Coordinate Systems. Here’s an explanation of both:

False Easting:

  • In many grid systems, a false easting is a value added to all easting values to ensure that, within the area of interest, no easting coordinates are negative.
  • For example, in the UTM system, a false easting of 500,000 meters is commonly added to the easting values in each zone. This means that the central meridian of each UTM zone (which would normally be at an easting of 0) is assigned an easting value of 500,000 meters. This ensures that every location within the zone has a positive easting value.
  • This practice is especially useful in systems that span both east and west of a central meridian, as it simplifies calculations and reduces the risk of errors.

False Northing:

  • A false northing is used similarly but applies to northing values. It’s added to avoid negative northing coordinates.
  • In the UTM system, false northing is used differently in the northern and southern hemispheres. For zones in the northern hemisphere, the equator is used as the zero northing line, and no false northing is added. However, in the southern hemisphere, to avoid negative numbers, a false northing of 10,000,000 meters is often added at the equator. This means that the northing values in the southern hemisphere indicate the distance north from a point 10,000,000 meters south of the equator.

The use of false eastings and northings ensures that all coordinates within the system are positive, making them easier to work with and reducing the likelihood of mistakes in calculations. This practice is particularly important in large-scale surveying and mapping projects where accuracy and ease of communication are crucial.

Frequently asked questions about Easting and Northing.

  1. What are Easting and Northing?
    Easting and Northing are terms used in cartography and navigation to represent coordinates in a grid-based system. Easting refers to the horizontal distance (or x-coordinate) measured eastward from a principal north-south reference line, typically a meridian. Northing is the vertical distance (or y-coordinate) measured northward from a principal east-west reference line, often the equator. This system is widely used in mapmaking and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
  2. How do Easting and Northing differ from latitude and longitude?
    Latitude and longitude are a system of angular measurements used globally to locate positions on the Earth’s surface. Latitude measures north-south position between the poles, while longitude measures east-west position. In contrast, Easting and Northing are linear measurements (typically in meters or feet) used in specific mapping systems like the UTM. They provide a more direct and uniform way to measure distances and locations on a map, especially over smaller areas.
  3. How are Easting and Northing coordinates read on a map?
    On a map using Easting and Northing, these coordinates are typically presented as a grid. Easting values (x-coordinates) are read along the bottom or top of the map, increasing from west to east. Northing values (y-coordinates) are read along the sides of the map, increasing from south to north. The intersection of an Easting and a Northing line gives the precise location on the map.
  4. What is the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) system?
    The UTM is a map projection system that divides the world into a series of 6-degree longitude zones. Each zone has its own central meridian, and locations within the zone are given in Easting and Northing coordinates. This system minimizes distortion within each zone, making it more accurate for detailed maps, especially in surveying and engineering.
  5. How accurate are Easting and Northing coordinates?
    The accuracy of Easting and Northing coordinates depends on the map scale and the quality of the measurements. In precise surveying contexts, these coordinates can be extremely accurate. However, for large-scale maps (like global maps), they can be less accurate due to the Earth’s curvature and the complexities of translating a 3D surface to a 2D map.
  6. Can Easting and Northing be converted to latitude and longitude?
    Yes, Easting and Northing coordinates can be converted to latitude and longitude and vice versa. This conversion requires knowledge of the specific map projection used and the reference points (like the meridian and equator). There are various tools and software available for this conversion.
  7. Why are Easting and Northing used in surveying and GIS?
    In surveying and GIS, precision and ease of use are key. Easting and Northing provide a straightforward, grid-based method to represent locations, which is especially useful over smaller areas with minimal distortion. This system simplifies calculations like distance and area measurement, making it highly useful in these fields.
  8. How do you find Easting and Northing coordinates?
    Easting and Northing coordinates can be found using maps that incorporate these grids, GPS devices programmed with the appropriate mapping system, and various software tools designed for cartography and GIS. In surveying, precise instruments like theodolites and total stations are used to determine these coordinates.
  9. Are Easting and Northing used globally?
    While Easting and Northing, as part of the UTM system, can be used globally, their use is more common in certain regions and applications. They are widely used in surveying, military operations, and GIS applications around the world. However, for global navigation and communication, latitude and longitude remain the standard.
  10. What are the limitations of Easting and Northing in mapping?
    The primary limitation of Easting and Northing is distortion over large areas. Since these coordinates are linear, they cannot accurately represent the Earth’s spherical shape on a global scale. Thus, they are more suited to regional or local maps. Also, each UTM zone has its own coordinate system, which can complicate the mapping and navigation process across different zones.

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.