Since coordinates on the Earth's surface can be recorded under widely varying assumptions about the shape and size of the Earth and the locations of the poles and prime meridian, cartographers have developed a standard for identifying the frame of reference for a coordinate system. This standard is called the datum. Because the frames of reference differ, a coordinate recorded in one datum usually has slightly different latitude and longitude values from the same point recorded in any other datum.

Some datums are designed to provide a marginally accurate representation of coordinates spanning the entire Earth, while other datums are designed to provide more accurate results in a particular region at the expense of lesser accuracy in other parts of the world. For example, the South American Datum of 1969 (SA69) is tailored to provide good results for maps of the South American continent and surrounding areas, but, as a consequence, provides poor results for the rest of the world.

When combining data from multiple sources into a single map, it is important that all of the coordinate systems being combined specify the projection and datum accurately. Since each datum has slightly different latitude and longitude values for the same coordinates, mixing coordinates from multiple datums together without fully defining the datum introduces inaccuracies into the map. Surfer will automatically convert different source coordinate systems from different datums to the target coordinate system.

A datum conversion can be used to convert coordinates from one datum to another using the Data | Coordinate System | New Projected Coordinates command. Click the ... next to the Target Coordinate System to open the Assign Coordinate System dialog. Click New to define a new projection and datum. The Define Coordinate System dialog has the Conversion Method and Ellipsoid parameters necessary to allow you to define a coordinate system with a custom datum.

Several different Conversion Methods may be used for converting coordinates from one datum to another:


The Molodensky method is the most widely used method of datum conversion. It adjusts latitude and longitude coordinates by taking into account the displacement between two datum's ellipsoids on all three axes. It does not take into account any rotational differences between the two ellipsoids.


The Bursa-Wolfe method is similar to the Molodensky method, but in some instances it produces more accurate results because it takes into account both displacement and rotational differences between two ellipsoids. Surfer supports the Bursa-Wolfe method for conversions from the WGS84 datum to the following datums: World Geodetic System 1972, DHDN-1, DHDN, Australian Geodetic 1984, ANS84, MRT - Everest Modified, Switzerland - CH1903, NTF France - Paris Meridian, and Pulkovo 1942 - Hungary.

Surfer supports the NTv2 datum conversion method. NTv2 is the Canadian government's officially sanctioned method of converting Canadian map data from the old NAD27 datum to the NAD83 datum. NTv2 is based on a hierarchical database of interpolation grids of different resolutions for different regions of the country. NTv2 datum conversions cannot be performed unless an NTv2 grid shift file is installed in the same folder/directory as the Surfer program. Visit Natural Resources Canada's Geodetic Reference Systems page on the web for more information about this datum and obtaining an NTv2 grid shift file. See the Golden SoftwareHow to convert from NAD27 to NAD83 using NTv2 help topic for detailed steps on using the NTv2 datum conversion.

Surfer supports conversions for over 200 different predefined datums.

See Also

Map Coordinate System Overview

Introduction to Map Projections

Custom Datum Definitions