Latitude, Longitude and Distance Traveled
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The latitude and longitude data from satellite-tracked animals may be difficult to understand at first. For example, if an animal 's latitude changes by 1 degree, how far did it move? This lesson will help students get comfortable with the data so they'll have a feeling of the distances involved when latitude and longitude change.

1. Sketch a Globe
For background understanding, students should practice drawing a globe by hand. As they draw, have them pay attention to the distance between latitude lines across the globe. Have them contrast this with the distance between longitude lines. Ask them, "What basic difference do you notice between latitude and longitude lines?" (The distance between the latitude lines is the same everywhere on the globe. Longitude lines come together at the poles, and the distance between them varies.)

2. Print Copies for Students (or Student-groups):

3. Have Students Do Measurements on a Map
For Chart #1, students will need a map that allows them to do measurements
at 40 N.

4. Measure Latitude Changes at 40 N (Chart #1)
Have students measure the change in distance when the LATITUDE changes by 1 degree, from 40 N to 41 N for example. Next have students figure the distances involved when latitude changes by .1 degrees and .01 degrees. (Students can do the math in their heads; they don't need to measure on a map.)

5. Measure Longitude Changes at 40 N (Chart #1)
Now measure the distances on a map when the LONGITUDE changes by 1 degree, from 72 W to 73 W for example. Then figure the distance involved when longitude changes by .1 and .01 degrees shown. (Again, students can do the math in their heads; they don't need to measure on a map.)

6. Compare Measurements at Different Latitudes (Chart #2)
On Chart #2, do the same measurements but at various latitudes. Are students surprised at their results?

7. Check your answers when done. (Link to answer sheet.)

8. Keep Your Charts!
Have students keep their completed charts on hand for use with satellite data.


Extension: Try the Online "Distance Calculator"
The format for latitude and longitude must be inserted exactly as shown below or the calculator does not work:

Insert this latitude/longitude format on the query page:

For Longitude change of 1 degree use:
From: 40:00:00N 72:00:00W
To: 41:00:00N 72:00:00W
For Longitude change of 1 degree use:
From: 40:00:00N 72:00:00W
To: 40:00:00N 73:00:00W


National Math Standards (NCTM)

  • Specify locations and describe spatial relationships using coordinate geometry and other representational systems.

Geography Standards

  • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.

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