Plotting the Coordinates and Projections of Pensacola, Florida

(Hometown of LtCol (Dr) Michael L. Thomas)

Approximate location of Pensacola, Florida denoted by an "X".

    The approximate location of Dr. Thomas’ hometown of Pensacola, Florida is shown in the map above, denoted by a large black “X”. The map was generated on the PSU Interactive Projections website. It is a Plate Carree (Geographic) projection that is one of several favorite styles of projection of Dr. Thomas.  Briefly, it can be classified as a cylindrical and equidistant projection.  The bounding box of the map are the longitudes of  N55 and  S20, and the latitudes of W100 and W70. It emphasizes the Eastern seaboard and the northern Gulf Coast of the North American continent, with the island of Cuba as the predominant geographic feature on the south extent of the map.

  This particular projection is an ancient one and distorts both shape and area. The reference ellipses are only circles at the equator. The areas of the ellipses vary widely and the scale, while true along the equator and meridians, increases with distance from the equator along the parallels, so one scale is not quoted as a feature in this map.  It is constant along any parallel, and is the same scale on the opposite side of the globe.  This projection was actually typical of maps of the 15th and 16th centuries when the dominating features of many maps created during this period were the shapes of the landmasses which reflects the maturity of navigation technology used since ancient times when this projection was probably invented.  Navigation had historically been a coastal endeavor, so this projection was sufficient in areas like the Mediterranean and along the established coastal trade routes (read - within sight of land!).  Latitude was easy to reference with relation of the stars and the sun to your present position. Simple shapes of bays, inlets and coastal features was sufficient for ships not venturing far from land.  Deep sea voyages of exploration later had to deal with the difficulty in determining the longitude of a ships location - which was was not a trivil task. Longitude required an estimate of the difference in times between where you currently were and a known, fixed point.  Much work was done by the Portuguese (Van Helden) and other sailing nations until this problem was finally solved by the Englishman, John Harrison who invented a practical navigational timepiece (Marine Chonometer) in the late 18th century.  His goal was to capture the “Longitude Prize” which was established by Parliament in 1714 after the disastrous wreckage of a British Fleet in 1707. The fleet navigators thought they were in mid ocean. They were not - they ran aground in the Isles of Scilly with the loss of over 2000 sailors.  Although he had a better solution than the other compettiors, King George III literally had to order Parliament to award him the prize.

   Using the GIDB mapping software (which includes a automatic coordinate converter) downloadable from, I was able to find the coordinates of Pensacola by placing the mouse cursor over a location in the city. The output appeared as such:

Geographic Coordinates of Pensacola
The place name shown on the map above represents the location of my home town. The geographic coordinates of  Pensacola are roughly:
Latitude: 30° 26' 32"N,  Longitude: 87° 13' 42"W

(although keep in mind this is only 1 point. More detailed locations from USGS are tabularized below.)

  The geographic coordinate system is partially based on a sexigesimal (base 60) system first used by the Babylonians and partially based on a decimal system (Troutman).  Due to their interest in astrology, the Babylonians were interested in extreme accuracy of measure - the sexigesimal system provided that accuracy for their astrological observations.  The full coordinate (Degree Minute Second (DMS)) is divided into 0-90 degrees north and south starting at "0" degrees at the equator and ending at "90" degrees at both the north and south poles.  This is the decimal portion of the coordinate. The second and third components are divided into 60 increments each - 60 minutes per degree and 60 seconds per minute. The reference line for longitude is the prime meridian and is decremented in units of DMS east and west from 0 to 180 similar to latitude. Note- going east and west lands you on a common 180 latitude - 180E is the same line as 180W. A system like this is called "unprojected."  If the earth were a perfect sphere this would be a very accurate system for perfectly locating a position. Since of course the earth is not perfectly spherical, inaccuracies emerge for various uses (such as representing spherical coordinates on a flat piece of paper) - hence the need for various types of "projections". Projected simply means it is a map projection drawing the lines representing the meridians longitude and parallels of latitude from an unprojected geographic system onto a flat surface.  Because the earth is not a perfect spherical body (it bulges some at the equator among other issues) different ellipsoids are used for the projection of data.  The North American Datum of 1927 (NAD27) is based on an ellipsoid established by Clarke in 1866, whose reference base station is located on the Meade's Ranch in Kansas.  The use of this datum is being replaced by the more modern North American Datum of 1983 (NAD83).  With the advent of modern electronics and satellite technology, the size, shape and center of gravity pf the earth was measured and calculated to two meters (DiBiase, 2007). While there are literally tens of thousands of control monuments in place based on the NAD27 datum (hence the reason it is still in some use), the amount of differences is well known  and documented. Converting from 1 datum to another is not difficult, although it is not  uniform geographically  by any means.  The differences between the two datums varies from 200-350 feet in the Western US, to tens of feet in the Central Plains and Eastern seaboard of the US. Other locations are available online from the GNIS locator of the USGS.

Query Results from GNIS Locations in Pensacola (Courtesy USGS Search Engine)

Feature Namesort by this column ID Class County State Latitude Longitude Map Ele(ft) BGN Entry Date
Escambia Bay 282249 Bay Santa Rosa FL 303229N 0870908W Pace 0 - 19-OCT-1979
Escambia River 294003 Stream Escambia FL 303232N 0871007W Pace 0 1962 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola 294117 Populated Place Escambia FL 302517N 0871301W Pensacola 102 1944 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Baptist Church 300506 Church Escambia FL 303206N 0871850W Cantonment 118 - 28-AUG-1987
Pensacola Bay 295005 Bay Santa Rosa FL 302206N 0871203W Gulf Breeze 0 - 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Bay Bridge 288698 Bridge Escambia FL 302338N 0871104W Pensacola 0 - 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Beach 288699 Populated Place Escambia FL 302001N 0870815W Gulf Breeze 7 - 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Beach Elementary School 2099931 School Escambia FL 302015N 0870654W Oriole Beach 7 - 25-NOV-2006
Pensacola Boys Base 297901 School Escambia FL 302431N 0871631W West Pensacola 49 - 28-AUG-1987
Pensacola Catholic High School 300687 School Escambia FL 302616N 0871503W West Pensacola 95 - 28-AUG-1987
Pensacola Christian School 288700 School Escambia FL 302552N 0871351W Pensacola 92 - 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Christian School 288701 School Escambia FL 302818N 0871426W Pensacola 98 - 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Community College, Learning Resource Center 298090 Building Escambia FL 303846N 0871155W Wallace 128 - 28-AUG-1987
Pensacola Country Club 2071790 Locale Escambia FL 302318N 0871550W West Pensacola 43 - 24-JUL-2005
Pensacola High School 288702 School Escambia FL 302604N 0871329W Pensacola 82 - 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Junior College 288703 School Escambia FL 302850N 0871206W Pensacola 105 - 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Lighthouse 2037695 Locale Escambia FL 302047N 0871829W Fort Barrancas 39 - 13-APR-2004
Pensacola Memorial Gardens 288705 Cemetery Escambia FL 303002N 0871828W Cantonment 89 - 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Outlet Mall 295844 Locale Escambia FL 302517N 0871425W Pensacola 95 - 28-AUG-1987
Pensacola Plaza 295839 Locale Escambia FL 302606N 0871631W West Pensacola 95 - 28-AUG-1987
Pensacola Port Authority 288706 Locale Escambia FL 302416N 0871241W Pensacola 23 - 19-OCT-1979
Pensacola Private School of Liberal Arts 300692 School Escambia FL 302559N 0871212W Pensacola 98 - 28-AUG-1987
Pensacola Regional Airport 309824 Airport Escambia FL 302825N 0871112W Pensacola 98 - 01-AUG-1994
Pensacola Village Shopping Center 295842 Locale Escambia FL 302539N 0871645W West Pensacola 85 - 28-AUG-1987



Universal Transversal Mercator (UTM) Coordinate System
The UTM coordinates (NAD83 or NAD27) of Pensacola are:

Easting: 478065E, Northing: 3367814N, Zone: 16

  The UTM coordinate system divides the earth into grids and is another way of locating positions on earth. It is based on a division at the equator of the earth into 60 zones with a width of 6 degrees each (6x60 = 360).  Each zone is based on it's own reference projection independent of the others. While the divisions around the equator are complete, the zones only go north and south to 84 and 80 degrees respectively.  (The polar regions use a different projection). Since this area contains most of the earth's surface, for most applications it is very useful.  Again, each zone has it's own unique Tranverse Mercator projection and a "projected" system of coordinates. This projection allows a great deal of the surface of the earth to be mapped with a minimum of distortion.  There is a central meridian in each zone and 2 parallel reference lines approximately 180 kilometers east and west of the central meridian.  Although some distortion is present, the amount of error within the zone is less than 1 part in 1000.   The "Easting" in this system is given relative to a reference central meridian (see diagram below) in each zone being represented as 500,000 meters east of the origin. The "Northing" is represented differently in a Zone north of the equator versus south of the equator - see "origins" in the diagram below. From the origin the coordinates in the North Zone range from 0-10,000,000 meters increasing north from the equator and the coordinates of the South Zone range from 0 to 10,000,000 meters where 10,000,000 is the same as 0 (the equator) in the North Zone.  In summary, the Northing "0" starts at 80 degrees south and increase to the equator in the southern zones while it starts at the equator and increase to 84 degrees north in the northern zones.


Military Grid Reference System (MGRS)
The MGRS coordinates of Pensacola are:
16R DU 78065 67814

   The MGRS system is based on and is an extension of the UTM. It is a reference coordinate system used by the US military and NATO. The grids are divided into 6 degree zones, with subdivisions of 6 degrees wide by 8 degrees high south of the equator (recall that UTM extends to 80 degrees S) and subdivisions of 6 degrees wide by 12 degrees high north of the equator (and recall that UTM extends 84 degrees N). Each of the 6X8 or 6X12 zones is subdivided by letters (in the Pensacola example DU) and finally into numerical coordinates the number of which give the degree of accuracy of the coordinates (FM3-25.36 Chapter 4).  Starting from the equator, then, the letters run from A to V for the 100km squares and the letters repeat every 2000km. Since our example is in the northern hemisphere, we'll confine our description to the details specific to the north.  The latitude reference starts at 180 degrees the letters A to Z are used in 18 degree increments before they repeat the sequence.  In both longitude and latitude the letters I and O are omitted to avoid confusion with the numbers 1 and 0.

16R DU reflects a 100000 meter square within Zone 16.

16R DU 7 6 reflects a 10000 meter square within square 16RDU.

16R DU 78 67 reflects 1000 meter square.

16R DU 780 678 reflects 100 meter square.

16R DU 7806 6781 reflects 10 meter square, and finally,

16R DU 78065 67814 reflects 1 meter square.


Image Courtesy of ECP Mountaineering Land Navigation Outline. Edited to show location of Major Grid containing Pensacola.

So the MGRS coordinates of Pensacola are as follows:
Section: 16 (same as UTM zone 16)
Sub Section: R (reading from the left upwards)
Map Section: DU (subsection further dividing section 16R)
Map Point: 78065 67814 (same coordinates as the last 5 of the UTM).

State Plane Coordinates (SPCs) For Pensacola:

The State Plane Coordinates can be calculated online at and for Pensacola are as follows for NAD83:

                   Latitude  (DMS)     Longitude (DMS)      Datum     Zone
 INPUT =   N302632.               W0871342.              NAD83  0903

  163003.236                   337963.774               FL N  


  The coordinates are  further "localized" for accuracy by using the state plane coordinate system.  A full set of state by state SPC and UTM data from Comcast Inc., complete with FGDC Metadata can be downloaded in Excel format from  From line 342 for Escambia County, we see that the data for the County are:

County Name Type State State Abbreviation SPC27 SPC83 STFIPS COFIPS FIPS Latitude Longitude UTM
Escambia County Florida FL 0903 0903 12 033 12033 30.607280 -87.332598 16

   State Plane Coordinates are not a projection but a separate coordinate system (more on the projection used later). From the table above, it is apparent that there are 2 coordinate systems for this part of Florida, one based on the NAD27 (measured in feet) and another based on the NAD83 (measured in meters). State Plane coordinate systems came into being in the 1930's to provide a common reference to both mappers and surveyors and divides the US into 120 zones - Florida having 3 separate zones. If the state has a large East-West expanse the Lambert conformal projection is used. If the state in question has a large North-South expanse, a transverse Mercator projection will be used. The driver here is of course the shape of the area being mapped with the idea being to provide the most accuracy locally as possible. Florida, because of its size and unique shape is divided into three SPC zones - east, west and north. SPC systems are well suited to the needs of the average surveyor. Some local governments still use the SPC system for local mapping, public works projects and GIS projects. Therefore, Zone 3 of Florida uses a Lambert projection based on its long East -West expanse. When I was working in South Florida for a Civil Engineering firm, the data collected by our survey teams was referenced to an SPC coordinate system used in the zone for South East Florida.  The coordinates are all stated in terms of Eastings and Northings, and all angles are based on the 90 degree angles being preserved from the standard parallels. 

   When we look at all the systems we can see the evolution of the art of navigation and surveying before us. The first mariners could navigate by following various landforms (hills, estuaries, etc.) from coastal town to coastal town and the maps and methods they used reflect the level of technology that had available to them. They could determine where they were in terms of latitude, but longitude could not accurately be determined. This in effect limited the degree of commerce and trade options available to early cultures. The maps they made reflected landforms and shapes, but were very inaccurate in terms of preserving things like size and distance. This continued as an issued well into modern times until John Harrison invented a Marine Chronometer in the mid-18th century (Sobel, 1995).

   In modern times more accurate methods of navigation evolved as technology improved. Better maps and methods made for better (and more diverse) methods of expressing distances on paper maps. What couldn't be completely accounted for were the measurement and modeling errors of trying to account for a non-spherical planet - the oblate spheroid we live on.  As weapons technology improved, the uses of the mapping reference systems created new requirements for more local accuracy in targeting for those weapons - particularly in the field of artillery targeting and infantry tactics. Smaller but more accurate maps drove a revision and extension of the UTM system to be more accurate on a more local scale that could be used by the soldier on the battlefield.


Other Maps Available Of Pensacola

   The USGS National Map website at shows many available datasets available in the viewer at the same time. It also provides multiple coordinate sets depending on where you put the cursor - here the Geographic coordinates as well as coordinates in the National Grid System are displayed.

   Since metadata available for the imagery specifies it as 0.5m, it's possible to zoom in to a very good level of detail. The imagery is from 2004.

Interactive Google Earth Links to My Hometown, my current offices in Heidelberg and Stuttgart, Germany and Air War College at Maxwell AFB, AL  (Click on the "Eyeball" Link to View)



PENSACOLA (Hometown)  The location of the house I grew up in PENSC 12 1 C FLA GWDD 302110N 0871913W 30.4180,-87.2182


MXWLLAFB 01 1 C ALA PNQS 322245N 0862145W 32.38616,-86.34450
226 Combat Comm Group HQ   01 1 C ALA PNQS     32.35600,-86.34726

Location at Terraserver


If you're more curious about Pensacola (weather and surf conditions) in "real time" there are a number of locations with webcams that refresh frequently (every 10 seconds or so) located at  and  For a more historical and tourist overview provided by the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce go to for a short video.

   An Escambia County GIS site is located at: that shows more local details and the local uses of GIS technology in the city and surrounding county.


No author,  State Plane Coordinate Data, Comcast Inc, Downloaded 9Feb2007 from

DiBiase, D. (1999-2004). The Nature of Geographic Data, Lesson 2, Part IV, Section B. The Pennsylvania State University World Campus Certificate Program in GIS. Retrieved Jan 25, 2007.

DiBiase, D. (1999-2004). The Nature of Geographic Data, Lesson 2, Part V, Section A. The Pennsylvania State University World Campus Certificate Program in GIS. Retrieved Jan 25, 2007.

ECP Mountaineering Land Navigation Outline;,%20Land%20Navigation.doc; accessed 28Jan07.

FM3-25.36 Chapter 4 Grids; accessed on Global on 28Jan2007.

National Geodetic Survey (2007) SPC Utilities. Accessed 9 February 2007.

Penn State Online GIS Education (2005). “Interactive Album of Map Projections”. Retrieved 25Jan2007, from

Sobel, Dava; “Longitude”; (ISBN 0-14-025879-5); Penguin Books, 1995.

Troutman, Jeremy; Number Systems; accessed January 27, 2007.

United States Geological Survey; National Map Viewer;; accessed 27Jan2007.

United States Geological Survey; GNIS Name Server (Query Engine);. ; accessed 9Feb2007.

Van Helden, Albert; “Longitude at Sea”;; accessed 24Jan2007.  

This document is published in fulfillment of an assignment by a student enrolled in an educational offering of The Pennsylvania State University. The student, named above, retains all rights to the document and responsibility for its accuracy and originality.