# Coordinate Systems

A coordinate system is method of defining how a file's point locations display on a map. Different types of coordinate systems exist that control how the coordinates are shown on the map. In Surfer, a map can be unreferenced in local coordinates, referenced to a geographic latitude and longitude coordinate system, or referenced to a known projection and datum. Each data set, grid, map layer, and the map frame can have an associated coordinate system. All coordinate systems for individual layers are converted “on the fly” to the map’s target coordinate system. This allows maps with different coordinate systems to be easily combined in Surfer.

A local coordinate system generally is considered unreferenced. A local system has a location that begins numbering at an arbitrary location and increments numbers equidistant in the X and Y directions from this location. This is frequently referred to as a *Cartesian coordinate system*. The distance units can be specified for an unreferenced local system in the **Assign Coordinate System** dialog.

A *Geographic *coordinate system uses a spherical surface to define locations on the earth. Geographic coordinate systems are commonly called unprojected lat/long. Surfer has several predefined geographic coordinate systems available. Each system has a different datum. The same latitude and longitude value will plot in different locations depending on the datum.

A *Projected* coordinate system consists of a projection and a datum. Each projection distorts some portion of the map, based on the ellipsoid and datum specified. Coordinates can be lat/long, meters, feet, or other units. Different projections cause different types of distortion. It is recommended that you do not use projected coordinate systems if you do not need to convert between coordinate systems or if all your data are in the same coordinate system.

## See Also

Map Coordinate System Overview