IERS Reference Meridian

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Line across the Earth
Prime Meridian
Nations that touch the Equator (red) and the Prime Meridian (blue)

The IERS Reference Meridian (IRM), also called the International Reference Meridian, is the prime meridian (0° longitude) maintained by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS). It passes about 5.3 arcseconds east of George Biddell Airy's 1851 transit circle or 102.478 metres (336.21 ft) at the latitude of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.[1][2][3] It is also the reference meridian of the Global Positioning System (GPS) operated by the United States Department of Defense, and of WGS84 and its two formal versions, the ideal International Terrestrial Reference System (ITRS) and its realization, the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF).


The reason for the 5.3 arcsecond offset between the IERS Reference Meridian and the Airy transit circle is that the observations with the transit circle were based on the local vertical, while the IERS Reference is a geodetic longitude, that is, the plane of the meridian contains the center of mass of the Earth.[4]

The International Hydrographic Organization adopted an early version of the IRM in 1983 for all nautical charts.[5] The IRM was adopted for air navigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization on 3 March 1989.[6] Tectonic plates slowly move over the surface of the Earth, so most countries have adopted for their maps an IRM version fixed relative to their own tectonic plate as it existed at the beginning of a specific year. Examples include the North American Datum 1983 (NAD83), the European Terrestrial Reference Frame 1989 (ETRF89), and the Geocentric Datum of Australia 1994 (GDA94). Versions fixed to a tectonic plate differ from the global version by at most a few centimetres.

However, the IRM is not fixed to any point on Earth. Instead, all points on the European portion of the Eurasian plate, including the Royal Observatory, are slowly moving northeast about 2.5 cm per year relative to it. Thus this IRM is the weighted average (in the least squares sense) of the reference meridians of the hundreds of ground stations contributing to the IERS network. The network includes GPS stations, Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) stations, Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) stations, and the highly accurate Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) stations.[7] All stations' coordinates are adjusted annually to remove net rotation relative to the major tectonic plates. If Earth had only two hemispherical plates moving relative to each other around any axis which intersects their centres or their junction, then the longitudes (around any other rotation axis) of any two, diametrically opposite, stations must move in opposite directions by the same amount. The 180th meridian is opposite the IERS Reference Meridian and forms a great circle with it dividing the earth into Western Hemisphere and Eastern Hemisphere.

Universal Time is notionally based on the WGS84 meridian. Because of changes in the rate of Earth's rotation, standard international time UTC can differ from the mean observed solar time at noon on the prime meridian by up to 0.9 second. Leap seconds are inserted periodically to keep UTC close to Earth's angular position relative to the Sun; see mean solar time.

List of places

Starting at the North Pole and heading south to the South Pole, the IERS Reference Meridian passes through 8 countries:

Country, territory or sea Notes
90°0′N 0°0′E / 90.000°N 0.000°E / 90.000; 0.000 (North Pole) Arctic Ocean
81°39′N 0°0′E / 81.650°N 0.000°E / 81.650; 0.000 (Greenland Sea) Greenland Sea
72°53′N 0°0′E / 72.883°N 0.000°E / 72.883; 0.000 (Norwegian Sea) Norwegian Sea
61°0′N 0°0′E / 61.000°N 0.000°E / 61.000; 0.000 (North Sea) North Sea
53°45′N 0°0′E / 53.750°N 0.000°E / 53.750; 0.000 (United Kingdom)  United Kingdom From Tunstall in East Riding to Peacehaven, passing through Greenwich
50°47′N 0°0′E / 50.783°N 0.000°E / 50.783; 0.000 (English Channel) English Channel
49°19′N 0°0′E / 49.317°N 0.000°E / 49.317; 0.000 (France)  France From Villers-sur-Mer to Gavarnie
42°41′N 0°0′E / 42.683°N 0.000°E / 42.683; 0.000 (Spain)  Spain From Cilindro de Marboré to Castellón de la Plana
39°56′N 0°0′E / 39.933°N 0.000°E / 39.933; 0.000 (Mediterranean Sea) Mediterranean Sea Gulf of Valencia
38°52′N 0°0′E / 38.867°N 0.000°E / 38.867; 0.000 (Spain)  Spain From El Verger to Calpe
38°38′N 0°0′E / 38.633°N 0.000°E / 38.633; 0.000 (Mediterranean Sea) Mediterranean Sea
35°50′N 0°0′E / 35.833°N 0.000°E / 35.833; 0.000 (Algeria)  Algeria From Stidia to Algeria-Mali border near Bordj Mokhtar
21°50′N 0°0′E / 21.833°N 0.000°E / 21.833; 0.000 (Mali)  Mali
14°59′N 0°0′E / 14.983°N 0.000°E / 14.983; 0.000 (Burkina Faso)  Burkina Faso
11°6′N 0°0′E / 11.100°N 0.000°E / 11.100; 0.000 (Togo)  Togo For about 600 m
11°6′N 0°0′E / 11.100°N 0.000°E / 11.100; 0.000 (Ghana)  Ghana For about 16 km
10°57′N 0°0′E / 10.950°N 0.000°E / 10.950; 0.000 (Togo)  Togo For about 39 km
10°36′N 0°0′E / 10.600°N 0.000°E / 10.600; 0.000 (Ghana)  Ghana From the Togo-Ghana border near Bunkpurugu to Tema
Passing through Lake Volta at 7°48′N 0°0′E / 7.800°N 0.000°E / 7.800; 0.000 (Lake Volta)
5°37′N 0°0′E / 5.617°N 0.000°E / 5.617; 0.000 (Atlantic Ocean) Atlantic Ocean Passing through the Equator at 0°0′N 0°0′E / 0.000°N 0.000°E / 0.000; 0.000 (Equator) ("Null Island")
60°0′S 0°0′E / 60.000°S 0.000°E / -60.000; 0.000 (Southern Ocean) Southern Ocean
68°54′S 0°0′E / 68.900°S 0.000°E / -68.900; 0.000 (Antarctica) Antarctica Queen Maud Land, claimed by  Norway

See also


  1. ^ History of the Prime Meridian – Past and Present
  2. ^ IRM on grounds of Royal Observatory from Google Earth Accessed 30 March 2012
  3. ^ The astronomic latitude of the Royal Observatory is 51°28'38"N whereas its latitude on the European Terrestrial Reference Frame (1989) datum is 51°28'40.1247"N.
  4. ^ Malys, Stephen; Seago, John H.; Palvis, Nikolaos K.; Seidelmann, P. Kenneth; Kaplan, George H. (1 August 2015). "Why the Greenwich meridian moved". Journal of Geodesy. doi:10.1007/s00190-015-0844-6. 
  5. ^ "A manual on the technical aspects of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – 1982" (PDF).  (4.89 MB) Section 2.4.4.
  6. ^ WGS 84 Implementation Manual page i, 1998
  7. ^ "IERS Conventions (2003): Conventional Terrestrial Reference System and Frame" (PDF).  (419 KB)
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