Distance between points on sphere or ellipsoid

`[arclen,az] = distance(lat1,lon1,lat2,lon2)`

[arclen,az] = distance(lat1,lon1,lat2,lon2,ellipsoid)

[arclen,az] = distance(lat1,lon1,lat2,lon2,* units*)

[arclen,az] = distance(lat1,lon1,lat2,lon2,ellipsoid,

`units`

[arclen,az] = distance(track,...)

[arclen,az] = distance(pt1,pt2)

[arclen,az] = distance(pt1,pt2,ellipsoid)

[arclen,az] = distance(pt1,pt,units)

[arclen,az] = distance(pt1,pt2,ellipsoid,units)

[arclen,az] = distance(track,pt1,...)

`[arclen,az] = distance(lat1,lon1,lat2,lon2)`

computes
the lengths, `arclen`

, of the great circle arcs connecting
pairs of points on the surface of a sphere. In each case, the shorter
(minor) arc is assumed. The function can also compute the azimuths, `az`

,
of the second point in each pair with respect to the first (that is,
the angle at which the arc crosses the meridian containing the first
point). The input latitudes and longitudes, `lat1`

, `lon1`

, `lat2`

, `lon2`

,
can be scalars or arrays of equal size and must be expressed in degrees. `arclen`

is
expressed in degrees of arc and will have the same size as the input
arrays. `az`

is measured clockwise from north, in
units of degrees. When given a combination of scalar and array inputs,
the scalar inputs are automatically expanded to match the size of
the arrays.

`[arclen,az] = distance(lat1,lon1,lat2,lon2,ellipsoid)`

computes
geodesic arc length and azimuth assuming that the points lie on the
reference ellipsoid defined by the input `ellipsoid`

. `ellipsoid`

is
a `referenceSphere`

, `referenceEllipsoid`

, or `oblateSpheroid`

object, or a vector
of the form `[semimajor_axis eccentricity]`

. The
output, `arclen`

, is expressed in the same length
units as the semimajor axis of the ellipsoid.

`[arclen,az] = distance(lat1,lon1,lat2,lon2,`

uses
the input string * units*)

`units`

to define the angle unit
of the outputs `arclen`

and `az`

and
the input latitude-longitude coordinates. `units`

may
equal `'degrees'`

(the default value) or `'radians'`

.`[arclen,az] = distance(lat1,lon1,lat2,lon2,ellipsoid,`

uses
the * units*)

`units`

string to specify the units of the latitude-longitude
coordinates, but the output range has the same units as the semimajor
axis of the ellipsoid.`[arclen,az] = distance(track,...)`

uses
the input string `track`

to specify either a great
circle/geodesic or a rhumb line arc. If `track`

equals `'gc'`

(the
default value), then great circle distances are computed on a sphere
and geodesic distances are computed on an ellipsoid. If `track`

equals `'rh'`

,
then rhumb line distances are computed on either a sphere or ellipsoid.

`[arclen,az] = distance(pt1,pt2)`

accepts *N*-by-2
coordinate arrays `pt1`

and `pt2`

such
that `pt1 = [lat1 lon1]`

and ```
pt2 = [lat2
lon2]
```

, where `lat1`

, `lon1`

, `lat2`

,
and `lon2`

are column vectors. It is equivalent to ```
arclen
= distance(pt1(:,1),pt1(:,2),pt2(:,1),pt2(:,2))
```

.

`[arclen,az] = distance(pt1,pt2,ellipsoid)`

,

`[arclen,az] = distance(pt1,pt,units)`

,

`[arclen,az] = distance(pt1,pt2,ellipsoid,units)`

,
and

`[arclen,az] = distance(track,pt1,...)`

are
all valid calling forms.

Using `pt1,pt2`

notation, find the distance
from Norfolk, Virginia (37ºN, 76ºW), to Cape St. Vincent,
Portugal (37ºN, 9ºW), just outside the Straits of Gibraltar.
The distance between these two points depends upon the * track* string
selected.

arclen = distance('gc',[37,-76],[37,-9]) arclen = 52.3094 arclen = distance('rh',[37,-76],[37,-9]) arclen = 53.5086

The difference between these two tracks is 1.1992 degrees, or about 72 nautical miles. This represents about 2% of the total trip distance. The trade-off is that at the cost of those 72 miles, the entire trip can be made on a rhumb line with a fixed course of 90º, due east, while in order to follow the shorter great circle path, the course must be changed continuously.

On a meridian and on the Equator, great circles and rhumb lines coincide, so the distances are the same. For example,

% Great circle distance arclen = distance(37,-76,67,-76) arclen = 30.0000 % Rhumb line distance arclen = distance('rh',37,-76,67,-76) arclen = 30.0000

The distances are the same, 30º, or about 1800 nautical miles. (There are about 60 nautical miles in a degree of arc length.)

Distance between two points can be calculated in two ways. For great circles (on the sphere) and geodesics (on the ellipsoid), the distance is the shortest surface distance between two points. For rhumb lines, the distance is measured along the rhumb line passing through the two points, which is not, in general, the shortest surface distance between them.

When you need to compute both distance and azimuth for the same
point pair(s), it is more efficient to do so with a single call to `distance`

.
That is, use

[arclen az] = distance(...);

arclen = distance(...) az = azimuth(...)

To express the output `arclen`

as an arc length
in either degrees or radians, omit the `ellipsoid`

argument.
This is possible only on a sphere. If `ellipsoid`

is
supplied, `arclen`

is a distance expressed in the
same units as the semimajor axis of the ellipsoid. Specify `ellipsoid`

as ```
[R
0]
```

to compute `arclen`

as a distance on
a sphere of radius `R`

, with `arclen`

having
the same units as `R`

.

`azimuth`

| `elevation`

| `oblateSpheroid`

| `reckon`

| `referenceEllipsoid`

| `referenceSphere`

| `track`

| `track1`

| `track2`

| `trackg`

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