How Do Global Positioning Systems Use Elevation Points: The Accuracy of GPS

We all know that Global Positioning Systems work by way of trilateration of three to four satellites that are currently orbiting near our location. However, a slight part, and should we say a part that is not mostly discussed in this process, is the use of elevation points. So, how do Global Positioning Systems use elevation points?

In this article, we are going to discuss this very scientific part of navigation technology used by our GPS trackers. At the same time, we also discuss its significance to the general flow of navigation. Finally, we listed down some of the uses of this process, which are beneficial to our safety.

Actually, the discussion of elevation points is a hard and never-ending one as there is still no definite framework in terms of the specific values of these points. Specialists are continuously and tirelessly trying to figure out a uniform system to determine elevation points. But still, up until now, these points are still manually calculated.

Do you want a deeper understanding of how your GPS tracker uses elevation points? Read on to find out.

What is Elevation?

Before we delve deep into the technical aspects of GPS, we first should know what elevation is. When we talk about elevation, it means the height above or below a fixed point. This is also called a geoid. Further, it is used in pertaining to points on the surface of the Earth.

In terms of navigation, the sea level is taken into consideration as elevation is mostly calculated based on the space or land area, above the sea level.

How do Global Positioning Systems Use Elevation Points: The Factors

There are two factors in determining the elevation points. These are:

  • Mathematical elevation
  • Sea level elevation

The mathematical elevation is the distance from the center of the earth partnered with the radius of any model of the surface. The result of this calculation is the elevation point from the surface model.

The sea level elevation, on the other hand, is default values that are the result of a lot of experiments and observations throughout centuries. These values are taken from surveyors, geologists, and space scientists.

It might be hard to digest this information but think about these elevation points as two separate points that help in locating a GPS waypoint. A waypoint is not readily programmed in your GPS receiver. Rather, your GPS will search for it once you indicate your starting and ending locations. How does a GPS search for a waypoint?

By means of calculations of longitudes and latitudes, which can be calculated using elevation points.

Importance of the GPS Recognition of Elevation Points

These points are important for a GPS tracker to recognize as it can predict how strenuous an activity should be. Now, that concept is far-fetched, right? How can your tracker predict how easy or how hard you will hike? It has something to do with a concept called cumulative elevation gain.

This term is usually used in mountaineering, running, and cycling. It simply refers to the sum of the gains all throughout the trip. The “gains” in this case are those instances when you climb uphill or when you are traversing a non-flat road.

Definitely, walking on a straight path is a lot easier than climbing a hill, right? This is where the strenuousness of the activity can be measured.

Now, let us go back to your GPS and its capacity to detect elevation points. If you are someone who keeps on checking your GPS tracker while hiking, you will notice that elevation points are shown by way of waypoints.

In most trackers, they immediately indicate elevation points. This is done for the user to be able to plan out their hike. Practical right? If you already know from the get-go that there will be a lot of elevation points, then you can reserve your energy for the tough climbs.

Not only can a GPS tracker show elevation points by way of waypoints, but they can also show significant rest stops that are near the elevation point. Of course, this feature is only available if the path that you are trekking is a well-known hike area.

Finally, and probably, the most important thing about GPS trackers using elevation points is in terms of accuracy. There is a lot of measurement and science behind this, as with the conversion of the ellipsoid to orthometric heights.

But we are not going to discuss that, to spare our brains from the torture. Moving on, the ability of a GPS tracker to use elevation points makes the performance of the tracker more accurate.

The more it bases its calculations on the solution of both mathematical elevation and sea level elevation, the more reliable the results will be. This is because coming up with a waypoint by means of these two elevation factors clearly defines the surface area you are currently in.

Uses of GPS Elevation Points

Not a lot of people really use this feature of the GPS tracker, to the point that some people do not even know that their tracker has this specific feature. But definitely, for those hardcore users of GPS trackers, more often than not, these people are avid hikers and fans of extreme sports.

This is so because the technology behind determining elevation points are mostly used in these aspects. Obviously, elevation points are important for seafaring. But they are also used in:

  • Gliding
  • Paragliding
  • Parasailing
  • Hiking
  • Cycling
  • Rock climbing
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Skydiving

There are many more uses besides these enumerated ones, but almost all land, water, snow, and air extreme sports need information about elevation points by way of a GPS tracker.


There is definitely a lot of science and technology backing up the process behind how do Global Positioning Systems use elevation points. Up until know, space scientists and geologists are consistently developing default values to properly determine elevation points. From this, we can say that our trackers’ ability to detect elevation points are really useful.

It is not only for navigation sake, but it is also for safety. This process has been used by air crafts and boats, and it has consistently proven to be an effective tool in averting any type of disasters. Of course, the same goes for individual use for extreme sports.

We must always keep in mind that this information is readily available in our trackers, and, therefore, we should use this to our advantage.

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