The original point of the CMAPF routines was to convert the
indices I,J of meteorological grid points to latitude-longitude
coordinates and back again. Because arbitrary latitude-longitude
coordinates, more often than not, will appear in the interior of
a grid cell, the I,J indices must be floating point numbers
rather than integers, and hence by convention referred to as X,Y
rather than I,J. By either reference, the X,Y coordinates are
non-dimensional. I.e., units are grid-cells.
If your purpose is something other than meteorological grids,
such as drawing maps on paper, then X,Y can be in whatever units
are appropriate, such as inches of paper. Such units would
automatically be allowed for when defining scales through STCM1P
or STCM2P, since the numeric values used for X,Y in those
routines will be expressed in your intended units.
Why is the initialization of the
projections split into two stages?
The first stage, the STLMBR routine, specifies the
projection's shape only. It defines whether we are dealing with a
Lambert Conformal projection on a cone, a Mercator projection on
a cylinder, or a Polar Stereographic projection on a plane. This
is analogous to selecting a map on which to lay out your
The second stage specifies the projection's scale in grid
units, as well as its origin and orientation, using either STCM1P
or STCM2P. This is analogous to laying out your grid on the
selected map. The scale, orientation and origin of a grid can be
changed any number of times without altering the shape of the
projection, but any change in the shape of the projection will
disrupt the scale and orientation, which will need to be
respecified. Analogously, you can lay out many rectangular grids
on a given map, but if the map is changed, the grid will no
longer be rectangular.
What is the meaning of REFLAT and
REFLON in STLMBR? What values do I use?
REFLAT is the angle at which the cone of a Lambert Conformal
projection is tangent to the Earth. It may be a very narrow, long
cone tangent to a circle of latitude at a low latitude, or a very
fat, almost planar cone tangent at a high latitude, or a moderate
shape cone tangent at a mid latitude. The shapes of features on
the Earth will suffer the least distortion near this latitude. If
REFLAT is 90., the cone becomes a plane at the North pole; i.e. a
Polar Stereographic projection, and this is how a Polar
Stereographic projection is specified. If REFLAT is 0., the cone
becomes a cylinder tangent at the equator, and this is how a
Mercator projection is specified.
REFLON is the longitude furthest from the cut. Any Lambert
conformal projection (i.e. on a cone) or Mercator projection
(i.e. on a cylinder) must have the cone or cylinder cut along a
meridian before it can be unrolled onto a plane. We want our
grids to be well clear of this cut; if the cut runs through our
grid, it can cause major geometrical problems. By selecting
REFLON to pass through our grid, we get 180 degrees of longitude
in either direction as room to work with.
The Polar Stereographic projection (on the plane, REFLAT=90.)
has no cut, so for this case, REFLON can be specified
How do I relate the parameters in
CMAPF to the Grid Descriptions in GRIB?
GRIB (GRIdded Binary), is a general purpose, bit-oriented data
exchange format, designated FM 92-VIII Ext. GRIB by the World
Meteorological Organization (WMO) Commission for Basic Systems
(CBS). It is documented in Dey, Clifford H., "NATIONAL
CENTERS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PREDICTION OFFICE NOTE 388", Mar,
1998 (unpublished) available here
in WordPerfect and Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) formats. Individual grids
are listed in section 1 of that document, in table B, while
definitions of terms are in section 2, in Table D.
The divisions by 1000. are due to the fact that units in GRIB
are millidegrees of latitude and longitude, and grid sizes in
meters, while CMAPF expects degrees and kilometers.
The call means that grid point 1,1 is mapped into the point at
latitude/longitude given by La1,Lo1, the gridsize is referred to
the 60 latitude (according to note 2 in the GRIB document (the
-60 latitude if the South polar projection is used), and the Lov
meridian is vertical (ORIENT=0.)
The EQVLAT function will return a tangent latitude that
ensures the scale at latitude Latin1 is the same as that at
Latin2, i.e. the projection defined by the two reference
latitudes. If Latin1=Latin2, EQVLAT will return their common
value. REFLON can be set either to Lov or Lo1, whichever ensures
the cut is well away from the grid areas.
Data in GRIB's Polar Stereographic section is in a form best
suited to one-point initialization (STCM1P). Using the
terminology there, we would initialize through the call
Either Latin1 or Latin2 can be used for the latitude at which
the gridsize is Dx/1000., because the use of EQVLAT in the call
to STLMBR has guaranteed that the scale is the same at Latin1 as
it is at Latin2.
The CMAPF call to initialize the shape of a Mercator
CALL STLMBR(PARMAP, 0., (Lo1 + Lo2)/2000.)
Note: the value of REFLAT in a Mercator projection is always
zero, has no relation to the "Latin" value specified in GRIB, and
must not be confused with it. Specifying REFLON to be the
midpoint of the grid will allow as much space as possible between
the grid and the cut.
From the information in GRIB, we may choose whether to use
one-point or two-point specification.
We may use the information on one point, gridsize and
orientation to specify
If we do it both ways, and compare the results, we have a
check on the internal consistency of the grids.
Why do we need the EQVLAT function?
Can't we just use the midpoint of the reference latitudes REFLT1
and REFLT2 (i.e. .5*(REFLT1+REFLT2)) as the tangent
latitude for the cone?
The EQVLAT function returns a value for tangent latitude that
is generally somewhat different from the midpoint latitude, and
further from the equator. EQVLAT is provided to guarantee that
the scale of the map is the same at latitude REFLT1 as it is at
REFLT2, and therefore as nearly uniform and undistorted as
geometrically possible in the latitude range between.
The midpoint latitude does not guarantee equal scales at the
two reference latitudes. Indeed, the gridsize would be smaller at
the reference latitude closer to the pole, so there would be an
overall scale gradient with consequent distortion.
It is sometimes pointed out that the midpoint latitude
produces a projection cone which, properly aligned on the Earth's
axis, will pass through both the two given circles of latitude on
a spherical Earth. While this is true, it is an academic
consideration to the practical map user, who is more concerned
with scale gradient distortion of his map.
Which two points do I use in the
STCM2P initialization? The diagonally opposite corners (lower
left and upper right)?
Not necessarily. Any two different points, for which you know
both the x,y and the latitude,longitude coordinates will do. To
reduce the effect of measurement errors, it is a good idea to
keep them as far from each other as possible, and diagonally
opposite corners does just that. However, if you are laying out a
rectangular grid on a Mercator projection, and you want to make
sure the grid is aligned North-South and East-West, it is easier
to use the two lower corners, which have the same latitude and
y-coordinates, or the two left corners, which have the same x-
and longitude- coordinates. This will guarantee the alignment
with less work on the part of the user.
The Two-Point routine works be specifying both x-y
and Latitude-longitude coordinates for two points. We
call this "pinning" information, and think of it as pinning the
map to the x-y grid at two points, which is enough to completely
define how the projection is scaled. In the One-Point routine,
this pinning-type information is provided for just one point. But
this information by itself is not enough to fully define the
scaling and orientation of a projection. It is like pinning a map
to a table with a single pin: the map may turn freely around that
point, changing the latitudes and longitudes of all but the
pinned point as it spins. To stop the spin, we select one
"scaling" meridian (with longitude "scalon"), and specify at what
angle (orient) it must cross the vertical. In most cases, the
user will intend the chosen meridian to be vertical, and will set
"orient" to zero.
With one point pinned, and the map fixed in direction over our
x-y grid, there is still one parameter missing. The map can be
"zoomed" in and out on the pinned point, like adjusting a
telescopic lens. To stabilize the size relationship, specify the
grid size - the distance in kilometers (gsize), traversed on the
Earth when either the x-coordinate or the y-coordinate changes by
one unit. Since the grid size actually changes from point to
point on a map, and here it is a function of latitude, it is
essential to specify the latitude (scalat) at which the grid size
will have the stated value.
Thus, in addition to the x-y coordinates and
latitude-longitude coordinates of a single "pinning point", we
also require the longitude (scalon) and orientation (orient) with
which it is associated, as well as the scaling latitude (scalat)
and the gridsize (gsize) with which it is associated. Since
"scalon" and "orient" are associated pairs, while "gridsize" and
"scalat" are associated pairs, why do we not order the parameters
to stcm1p as stcm1p (..., scalon,orient, scalat,gridsize}?
We want to allow for possible future extensions of the routines
to projections that are not symmetric about the poles. For such
projections, gridsize is no longer a function only of latitude,
and the longitudes are no longer straight lines with uniform
orientation. In such a case, we could still specify the gridsize
at a "scaling point", whose lat-lon coordinates are scalat and
scalon, and rotate the projection so that, at that scaling point,
the tangent to the local meridian makes an angle of "orient" with
the vertical. It is with that future application in mind that we
organized the parameters as stcm1p (..., scalat,scalon, gridsize,orient}.
The Earth is an oblate spheroid, with an equatorial radius of
about 6,378.1 km. and a polar radius of about 6,356.8 km., which
leads to a polar radius of curvature of 6399.6 km. Equatorial
radii of curvature are 6,378.1 and 6,335.4 km. in the East-West
and North-South directions, respectively. (The radii of curvature
are proportional to the number of kilometers on the ground per
degree of latitude or longitude).
Thus, you can make a case for any radius of the Earth from
6,335 to 6,400 kilometers, none of them being the radius
of the Earth.
You should use whatever radius best suits your needs. If you
are creating a new micro- or meso-scale grid covering a limited
latitude range, a representative radius of curvature of the geoid
might be used. Polar researchers laying a grid over Antarctica
would want to use 6,399 km.
If you are reading gridded data on an established grid, you
need to match the radius actually used by that grid, which may
take some research.
The U.S. Standard Atmosphere Table (1976) gives a radius of
6,356.766 km. The GRIB specification, version 1, requires a
radius of 6,367.47 km. for a spherical Earth. GRIB version 2
defaults to the same radius, but allows the user to specify
another radius. NCEP (The National Centers for Environmental
Prediction) perform their computations on a grid with an Earth
radius of 6,371.2 km., even when publishing the results in GRIB
If you use a different radius, you will likely mis-align your
grid compared to the originator of the grid, especially when
using one-point specification to use a given grid size at a
For example, an unsuspecting person, using grid number 106
from NCEP Office Note 388, might assume the Earth radius 6,367.47
km. specified in Office Note 388, instead of the actual radius
6,371.2 km. actually used by NCEP. If so, using the specified
45.37732 km at 60N, he will lay out the same grid as NCEP would
have done if they had specified a grid size of 45.40390 km.
there. The lower left corner would be at 17.4966N,129.2958W
instead of the intended 17.52861N, 129.29578W, a shift of about 4
km., or about 1/8th of a grid step there.
The legend on Lambert Conformal
Projections usually have two reference latitudes. The projection
is drawn on a cone that passes through these two latitude
circles, right? (WRONG!!)
The Lambert Projection is indeed drawn on a cone, but not this
cone. It is very plausible and tempting to suppose that the map
is drawn on the cone through the two latitude circles mentioned
in the legend. In fact, this inaccurate misconception appears in
a number of popular texts on maps.
However, the cone on which the Projection is drawn (call it
the Lambert cone) is different from what we shall call the secant
cone (since it is made up of secant lines drawn through the
points where meridian cross the two latitude circles).
Specifically, the "half-angle" (the angle between the cone and
its axis) of one cone is smaller than the half-angle of the
other, so one cone will fit entirely inside the other.
Elementary trigonometry shows the half-angle of the secant
cone is the mean of the two latitudes. If the reference latitudes
are 30 and 60, the cone half-angle would be 45.
The half-angle of the Lambert cone is a more complicated
question. Mathematically, it is determined by two
the conformal condition that at every point, the scale in the
North-South direction is the same as that in the East-West
that the scale of the projection at one reference latitude be
the same as the scale at the other, and be in fact the scale
printed on the map legend.
Those two conditions, together with some involved calculus,
combine to require the Lambert cone's half-angle to be a specific
function of the two latitudes, provided by the EQVLAT function in
the CMAPF routines. (cf Taylor, 1997,
Appendix A , or Ricardus and Adler,
1972, p93, eq (5.93). In the latter equation, you can
simplify to the spherical case by setting epsilon=0 and
cancelling out the N-terms.
In the case of latitudes 30° and 60°, the cone
half-angle comes out to 45.6897°, slightly more than half a
degree difference from that of the secant cone. If the Lambert
Cone were positioned to pass through the 30° latitude circle,
it would also pass through the 61.3794° latitude circle, not
the 60° circle.
Because the projection is not drawn on the secant cone, the
common description of the two reference latitude system as "the
secant specification" is a misnomer that tends to perpetuate an
erroneous conception of the Lambert Projection.
The Mercator projection is done by
drawing rays from the Earth's center through points on the
Earth's Surface to a cylinder tangent to the Earth at the
Equator, right? (WRONG!!)
Another plausible misconception that appears in a number of
popular books. Although the Mercator Projection is indeed drawn
on such a cylinder, it is not drawn in that way. It is tempting
to think of a projection as given by rays drawn from some focal
point, like the light bulb in a movie projector, but it is not
possible to draw the Mercator or the Lambert projections in that
way. Of all the conformal maps of a sphere, only the
Stereographic can be drawn by rays from a single point, and even
then, that focal point is not the Earth's center, but the
Remember the conformal condition that the scale in the
East-West direction be the same as that in the
North-South direction at any point. For any
cylindrical projection, the scale in the E-W
direction at a given latitude is the ratio of the circumference
of the cylinder to that of the latitude circle, i.e. one
to cos(lat). If you create a map by projecting rays from
the center of the Earth (call it the ray-traced map), the
latitude circle would be mapped on the cylinder at a height of
y = tan(lat), and the scale in the
N-S direction would be obtained by differentiation,
resulting in one to the square of
cos(lat). This means the scale in the N-S
direction is the square of and larger than that in
the E-W direction, increasingly so as we get further
from the equator. In other words, the conformal condition is
violated, and this projection has nothing to do with
diagram demonstrates the difference in spacing of latitude
circles between the ray-traced map and the Mercator projection,
which does satisfy the conformal condition. To meet this
condition, the latitude circles must be spaced closer together on
the cylinder, compressing by a factor which increases
progressively from the Equator. Mathematically, in order for the
N-S scale to match the E-W scale, we
must integrate the E-W scale with respect to
latitude. The latitude circle must be placed at a height given by
y = ln( (1+sin(lat)) / cos(lat) )
where ln denotes the natural logarithm.
It is a tribute to the ingenuity and perseverance of Mercator
that he was able to tabulate this function before either calculus
or logarithms were developed.
The Lambert Conformal Projection is
also known as the Albers equal-area Projection, right?
I do not know where this misconception comes from. It is a
mistake to equate the two projections, as the Lambert Conformal
and the Albers equal-area projections are very different
projections, with different definitions, purposes,
characteristics and behaviors.
It is true that both projections are into a cone tangent to
the Earth aligned with the polar axis, that the cone when
unrolled covers a wedge or fan, a portion of the plane between
two rays from a center, that both projections map meridians into
rays from the center in that wedge, and latitude circles into
circular arcs with the common center at the apex of the
However --- The Lambert Conformal projection is conformal,
i.e. it causes angles on the Earth to map into equal angles on
the projection. It does this by ensuring that the scale is
everywhere isotropic, so the scale at any point is independent of
direction. The scale itself varies from point to point as needed
to fit other constraints of the projection, so it is not
The Albers equal-area projection, by contrast, preserves area,
so that areas on the Earth are strictly proportional to the areas
of the regions they project to on the map. This is accomplished
by ensuring that, at every point, the scale in the major
direction and the scale in the minor direction (in this case,
North-South and East-West directions) multiply to a constant,
homogeneous over the world. The anisotropy of the scale, i.e. the
actual North-South scale, varies from point to point as needed to
fit other constraints of the projection, while the East-West
scale varies in inverse proportion.
If a projection were to be both conformal and equal area, the
scale would have to be both isotropic and homogeneous. This
condition would require that the intrinsic curvature of the chart
must be proportional to the intrinsic curvature of the Earth -
either the chart is flat and so is the Earth, or the Earth is
round and so is the chart (globe).
Among numerous differences between these projections is this:
Since the surface area of the Earth is finite, the Albers
projection maps it into a finite part of the wedge, bounded by an
arc of finite radius. In fact, because Albers set up the
condition that the scale should be isotropic where the cone is
tangent, it turns out that both poles map into finite, non-zero
circular arcs in the wedge, and the entire Earth maps into the
region between them. By contrast, it is not hard to show that the
Lambert projection must map the Earth into the entire wedge,
extending from zero to infinity.
For more information on these projections, consult, e.g. "Map
Projections", Ricardus and Adler,
1972. They cover Lambert Conformal projections with other
conformal projections in chapter 5, and the Albers projection
with other Equivalent projections in chapter 6. The web site
"Map Projections Poster" maintained by the US Geological
Survey, provides an excellent review of map projections, and
delineates the differences between, i.a., the Lambert Conformal
projection, the Lambert equal-area azimuthal projection, and the
Albers equal-area conic projection.
Is it unreasonable to make a tangent
specification with a secant specification whose
latitudes are the same?
It is quite reasonable to produce a tangent specification. The
basic parameter that distinguishes one Lambert Conic Projection
from another is the "width" of the cone: i.e. the fraction of the
disk covered by the unrolled and flattened cone.
This fraction is the sine of the latitude at which the cone is
tangent to the Earth, so the very first task in setting up the
projection is to find out what the tangent latitude is for a
given pair of reference latitudes. To have it already specified
can be a useful shortcut.
As for indicating a tangent projection by setting the
reference latitudes equal, that is not unreasonable either. In
freshman calculus, the tangent to a smooth curve at a point is
defined as a limit of secants, so the linkage is not at all
farfetched, even though calling two reference latitudes a "secant
specification" is a misnomer, since it is not possible to fit the
projection cone through both reference latitudes
The eqvlat function in the CMAPF routines returns as a tangent
latitude the common value when given two equal reference
latitudes, and the GRIB2
specification, Grid Definition Template 3.30: Lambert
conformal, specifies in a footnote, "If Latin 1 = Latin 2, then
the projection is on a tangent cone." For other gis systems, you
may need to check whether this method of specifying a tangent
projection is allowed for, since a system which was not written
with this possibility in mind may wind up trying and failing to
divide by zero.
So why do printed and published
Lambert Projection maps invariably use two reference
These maps typically are used for navigation, especially in
aviation. For such purposes, it is vital that distances and
directions on the map correspond closely to those on the Earth.
Ideally, the map should be drawn as a conformal map with a
constant scale throughout. Since this is a mathematical
impossibility for the round Earth to a flat map, the next best
choice is made to minimize the variation of the scale over the
The above graph shows, for a Lambert Conformal projection
tangent at 50°N, the relative inverse scale. If the map is,
e.g., "tangent projection 1:500000 at 50°N", then at
50°N, one cm on the map corresponds to 5km on the Earth,
while at the equator, 1cm corresponds to about 72% of that (3,586m). For navigation,
we cannot allow this great a range of scale.
Suppose we set a design limit of, say, 0.1% variation of scale
allowed over the map, so that 1cm on the map may represent between 4,995m
Consider the expanded portion of the graph centered at the
maximum, located at latitude 50°N (the tangent latitude).
The black curve in this
graph represents the percentage variation in distance on Earth
compared to the map for the tangent specification. It shows that the design
range of scale holds in the latitude range from
47.46°N to 52.49°N. In that range the scale is indeed
within 0.1% of the designated scale. Note that all distances on
the map correspond to a distance on the Earth of
less than or equal to 5km. We have not used the allowed range of
scale above 100%, and this is unnecessarily restrictive.
We could map a greater latitude range within our design limits of
we made use of the other half of the allowed scale range.
To this end, suppose we specify a "secant" projection of 1:500,000
at the reference latitudes 47.46°N and 52.49°N.
The red curve in the graph shows the resulting percentage variation in scale.
The projection cone is still the same, tangent at 50°N, but the
map now covers an extended latitude range, (from 46.36°N to 53.54°N),
at the nominal scale of 1:500000, to within the specified accuracy.
The "secant" specification provides the map's user with the
information that, if he uses a 1:500000 scale to draw a track on the
map, his measurements will slightly underrepresent distances on the earth
in the latitude band between the reference latitudes, and slightly over-represent
the distances on the earth when outside this band, but throughout the band
and outside the band for an interval of about 20% the separation between
the reference latitudes, the differences will be acceptable.
Thus, the distance between the reference latitudes provides the user information
that cannot be provided by simply a tangent specification.
In summary, the secant specification allows the cartographer more space to map
to his intended scale, and provides the user information as to the
precision in the area covered by the cartographer.
Are you sure the Lambert cone doesn't pass through
the Earth at the reference latitudes?
I am very sure. Consider the chart above, giving the distribution of the
scale with respect to latitude for cones tangent at 50°N.
Similar charts can be produced for cones tangent at any latitude; each will
pass from zero at the poles to a maximum at the tangent latitude. Pairs of
reference latitudes corresponding to the cone are found by drawing a horizontal
line and noting the two places where it cuts the curve.
Suppose that, for all of these pairs, if the cone passes through one latitude
circle, it also passes through the other. At least for a spherical Earth,
that would mean the cone would be tangent to a latitude circle precisely midway
between the two reference latitudes, and that in turn would mean the graph
above was symmetric about the latitude 50°N.
The Red curve in the above graph is the reflection of the inverse
scale function (the black curve) in the
50°N latitude. Any spatial separation between the two,
or any other distinctive differences, shows our supposition
cannot be true, and Lambert projection cones do not generally pass through
both reference latitudes.