# Why Grid North doesn't agree with True North on maps

when I look at large scale map such as USGS top maps, i noticed that maps' grid are not aligned with the map frame. looking at the declination diagram at the bottom of the map, there's a difference between true north and GN (Grid north)

can someone explain to me why the map grid doesn't align with True north?

Borg
Gold Member
when I look at large scale map such as USGS top maps, i noticed that maps' grid are not aligned with the map frame. looking at the declination diagram at the bottom of the map, there's a difference between true north and GN (Grid north)

can someone explain to me why the map grid doesn't align with True north?
True north and magnetic north aren't located in the same place and differ by a large distance. Depending on how they align with respect to your location, there can be a significant angular difference. In Europe, the angle is fairly small. However, the farther north you go in North America, the difference becomes quite large.

Evo
thanks for the reply, i understand the difference bet. true north and magnetic north. the question i have is why the difference between True north and Grid north. please see attached picture USGS top map Declination diagram, there is a difference of 1 deg 34 mins between true north and grid north, can anyone explain this difference?

#### Attachments

• Capture.PNG
61.9 KB · Views: 1,176
SteamKing
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
thanks for the reply, i understand the difference bet. true north and magnetic north. the question i have is why the difference between True north and Grid north. please see attached picture USGS top map Declination diagram, there is a difference of 1 deg 34 mins between true north and grid north, can anyone explain this difference?
It has to do with how the surface of an oblate spheroid like the earth is projected onto a two-dimensional flat surface while minimizing distortion of the geographic features from the three-dimensional surface.

Part of the UTM projection is explained in this USGS article:

https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2001/0077/report.pdf

When detailed maps of a region are produced, a central meridian is chosen which usually runs thru the center of the region being depicted. The further away one goes from this central meridian, the more distortion accumulates on the two-dimensional map, so large areas, like the continental United States, are usually split up so that several different reference meridians are used. UTM is a global projection, but the U.S. also has a separate projection system called State Plane, and the 48 continental states plus Alaska and Hawaii are divided into one or more regions for the purpose of making 2-D maps of these territories. In each system, State Plane or UTM, the 2-D map is designed so that features can be located with a pair of X-Y coordinates, with X being measured east and west from the central meridian while Y is measured north and south from a reference latitude. UTM measures X-Y in meters while State Plane uses feet.

The science of making maps of the earth's surface is called geodesy, and the USGS has several publications which describe map making and map projections in more detail.

FactChecker, 1oldman2, Borg and 1 other person
It has to do with how the surface of an oblate spheroid like the earth is projected onto a two-dimensional flat surface while minimizing distortion of the geographic features from the three-dimensional surface.

thanks for the explanation.

I calibrated a USGS topo maps with 2-point diagonal calibration and use on my phone for tracking. then I realized that the map are off when I'm tracking with GPS. when I looked closely at the map, I found out the grids are not aligned with map edge, the map frame is oriented to True north, but the grid north is off by a small degree, this would require at least 3-points calibration to be used accurately with GPS. so I calibrated with 4-points and it turned out to be accurate.

GN stands for Geographic North, not grid north. GN is the point around which the earth rotates. It doesn't line up precisely with Polaris, the North Star. The little diagram on the map shows the variance between GN and the North Star.

The grids on the map are usually Range and Township lines. The grid we use for surveying land.

davenn
Borg
Gold Member
GN stands for Geographic North, not grid north.
That is not correct. GN refers to Grid North.

http://therucksack.tripod.com/MiBSAR/LandNav/Datums/1952USGS1-62DatumLegend.jpg [Broken]

Last edited by a moderator:
davenn and Fervent Freyja
A matter of semantics. Here, the grid they speak of is the UTM grid. Which is the same as the longitude and latitude lines. Which meet at Geographic North on the globe. We're saying the same thing.

Borg
Gold Member
A matter of semantics. Here, the grid they speak of is the UTM grid. Which is the same as the longitude and latitude lines. Which meet at Geographic North on the globe. We're saying the same thing.
No we're not. Geographic coordinates are very different from grid coordinates. The star in the legend represents geographic north and the GN angle represents the angular difference between geographic and grid coordinates at the center of the sheet. This particular map shows two grids (UTM in blue and 1927 North American).

Also, take a look at this map of an area in northern Russia. You will see that the geographic coordinates actually curve on the map where the grid coordinates do not. For maps at this latitude the angular difference between geographic and grid coordinates varies too much across the sheet to give a single value from the center.

Last edited:
davenn
Borg
Gold Member
Correction: The line from the 1927 North American datum should be pointed to the 320000 FEET tick between the two blue circles.

D H
Staff Emeritus
GN stands for Geographic North, not grid north. GN is the point around which the earth rotates. It doesn't line up precisely with Polaris, the North Star. The little diagram on the map shows the variance between GN and the North Star.
This is very wrong, and Borg is correct. GN stands for grid north, not geographic north. Look at different topographic maps. Every topographic map has three different concepts of "north". True north, which points toward the Earth's rotation axis; grid north, which is parallel to the vertical edge paper on which the map is printed; and magnetic north, which is the direction in which a compass points. The question is, why is this done?

when I look at large scale map such as USGS top maps, i noticed that maps' grid are not aligned with the map frame. looking at the declination diagram at the bottom of the map, there's a difference between true north and GN (Grid north)

can someone explain to me why the map grid doesn't align with True north?

The basic problem is that maps are flat while the Earth is more or less spherical. There is no perfect representation of the surface of the Earth on a flat piece of paper. Every projection involves some sort of compromise. Lines of latitude and longitude are orthogonal to one another in a Mercator projection. This projection does a nice job near the equator, but it is rather lousy more than a few degrees from the equator.

Topographic maps instead typically use a transverse Mercator projection. A transverse Mercator projection generalizes the concept of Mercator projection to some great circle other than the equator. The universal transverse Mercator maps used in topographic maps are a bit of a misnomer. The problem with any Mercator projection is that they are not "universal." A Mercator projection is rather lousy in places far from the great circle used as the basis for the projection.

The solution used in UTM projections is to use sixty different transverse Mercator projections, each centered on a line of latitude rather than the equator. The sixty different projections correspond to 6 degree wide slices of an orange. This reduces the distortions that result from using a global Mercator projection, but at the cost of having lines of latitude and longitude being curves rather than lines.

Finally, to answer the question, true north typically is not parallel to an edge of the paper on which a topographic map is printed.

Evo, jim mcnamara, Borg and 1 other person
"It has to do with how the surface of an oblate spheroid like the earth is projected onto a two-dimensional flat surface while minimizing distortion of the geographic features from the three-dimensional surface." and it has to do with the fact that, at surface level, human beings want to own square plots of land of equal size and at the .5 x .5 mile and 1x 1 mile level keeping the plots square and equal size mattered more than keeping the east and west edges straight north and south. Resets called correction lines occur every 24 miles on the Canadian Prairies to accommodate this. Near the 49th Parallel and close to the eastern edge of each Meridian the 'jog' that the north-south roads and boundaries take is smaller than it is as you go north and west. Every mapping system encounters the same dilemma

Have a look here
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominion_Land_Survey
If you switch to the satellite view of Google Maps, you can SEE how the human need for square plots of equal size played out on the round surface. Any 2-D map of the 3-D surface is going to have this play out. At the end of the day, all lines of longitude meet at the north pole, but all truly square grids will NOT have edges that meet at the north pole, so something has to give.

Frodo
Gold Member
Grid north is the axis about which the earth rotates.

Magnetic north is where the compass points to - the magnetic north pole.

They are different because the magnetic field does not line up with the axis of rotation.

davenn
davenn
Gold Member
Grid north is the axis about which the earth rotates.