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The study of geodesics on an ellipsoid arose in connection with geodesy specically with the solution of

triangulation networks. The gure of the Earth is well

approximated by an oblate ellipsoid, a slightly attened

sphere. A geodesic is the shortest path between two points Isaac Newton

on a curved surface, i.e., the analogue of a straight line on

a plane surface. The solution of a triangulation network

on an ellipsoid is therefore a set of exercises in spheroidal the great-circle distance using the mean Earth radius

trigonometry (Euler 1755).

the relative error is less than 1%. However, the course

If the Earth is treated as a sphere, the geodesics are great of the geodesic can dier dramatically from that of the

circles (all of which are closed) and the problems re- great circle. As an extreme example, consider two points

duce to ones in spherical trigonometry. However, Newton on the equator with a longitude dierence of 17959;

(1687) showed that the eect of the rotation of the Earth while the connecting great circle follows the equator, the

results in its resembling a slightly oblate ellipsoid and, shortest geodesics pass within 180 km of either pole (the

in this case, the equator and the meridians are the only attening makes two symmetric paths passing close to the

closed geodesics. Furthermore, the shortest path between poles shorter than the route along the equator).

two points on the equator does not necessarily run along Aside from their use in geodesy and related elds such

the equator. Finally, if the ellipsoid is further perturbed as navigation, terrestrial geodesics arise in the study of

to become a triaxial ellipsoid (with three distinct semi- the propagation of signals which are conned (approxiaxes), then only three geodesics are closed and one of mately) to the surface of the Earth, for example, sound

these is unstable.

waves in the ocean (Munk & Forbes 1989) and the radio

The problems in geodesy are usually reduced to two main

cases: the direct problem, given a starting point and an initial heading, nd the position after traveling a certain distance along the geodesic; and the inverse problem, given

two points on the ellipsoid nd the connecting geodesic

and hence the shortest distance between them. Because

the attening of the Earth is small, the geodesic distance

between two points on the Earth is well approximated by

are used to dene some maritime boundaries, which in

turn determine the allocation of valuable resources as

such oil and mineral rights. Ellipsoidal geodesics also

arise in other applications; for example, the propagation

of radio waves along the fuselage of an aircraft, which

can be roughly modeled as a prolate (elongated) ellipsoid

(Kim & Burnside 1986).

1

(the term spheroid is also used) was a well-accepted approximation to the gure of the Earth. The adjustment

of triangulation networks entailed reducing all the measurements to a reference ellipsoid and solving the resulting two-dimensional problem as an exercise in spheroidal

trigonometry (Bomford 1952, Chap. 3).

N

12

2

1

0

E

A

1

F

B

s12

2

H

north pole and EFH lie on the equator.

Leonhard Euler

one of two types. Consider two points: A at latitude 1

and longitude 1 and B at latitude 2 and longitude 2

(see Fig. 1). The connecting geodesic (from A to B) is

AB, of length s12 , which has azimuths 1 and 2 at the

two endpoints.[1] The two geodesic problems usually considered are:

curved surfaces. The sequence of progressively more

complex surfaces, the sphere, an ellipsoid of revolution,

and a triaxial ellipsoid, provide a useful family of surfaces for investigating the general theory of surfaces. Indeed, Gausss work on the survey of Hanover, which in1. the direct geodesic problem or rst geodesic problem,

volved geodesics on an oblate ellipsoid, was a key motigiven A, 1 , and s12 , determine B and 2 ;

vation for his study of surfaces (Gauss 1828). Similarly,

2. the inverse geodesic problem or second geodesic

the existence of three closed geodesics on a triaxial ellipproblem, given A and B, determine s12 , 1 , and 2 .

soid turns out to be a general property of closed, simply

connected surfaces; this was conjectured by Poincar

(1905) and proved by Lyusternik & Schnirelmann (1929) As can be seen from Fig. 1, these problems involve solving the triangle NAB given one angle, 1 for the direct

(Klingenberg 1982, 3.7).

problem and 12 = 2 1 for the inverse problem, and

its two adjacent sides. In the course of the 18th century

these problems were elevated (especially in literature in

1 Geodesics on an ellipsoid of rev- the German language) to the principal geodesic problems

(Hansen 1865, p. 69).

olution

For a sphere the solutions to these problems are simple exThere are several ways of dening geodesics (Hilbert & ercises in spherical trigonometry, whose solution is given

Cohn-Vossen 1952, pp. 220221). A simple denition by formulas for solving a spherical triangle. (See the aris as the shortest path between two points on a surface. ticle on great-circle navigation.)

However, it is frequently more useful to dene them as For an ellipsoid of revolution, the characteristic constant

paths with zero geodesic curvaturei.e., the analogue of dening the geodesic was found by Clairaut (1735). A

straight lines on a curved surface. This denition en- systematic solution for the paths of geodesics was given

compasses geodesics traveling so far across the ellipsoids by Legendre (1806) and Oriani (1806) (and subsequent

surface (somewhat less than half the circumference) that papers in 1808 and 1810). The full solution for the diother distinct routes require less distance. Locally, these rect problem (complete with computational tables and a

geodesics are still identical to the shortest distance be- worked out example) is given by Bessel (1825).[2]

tween two points.

Much of the early work on these problems was carried out

By the end of the 18th century, an ellipsoid of revolution by mathematiciansfor example, Legendre, Bessel, and

1.1

3

coined by Laplace (1799b):

Nous dsignerons cette ligne sous le nom

de ligne godsique [We will call this line the

geodesic line].

This terminology was introduced into English either as

geodesic line or as geodetic line, for example (Hutton

1811),

A line traced in the manner we have now

been describing, or deduced from trigonometrical measures, by the means we have indicated, is called a geodetic or geodesic line: it

has the property of being the shortest which

can be drawn between its two extremities on

the surface of the Earth; and it is therefore the

proper itinerary measure of the distance between those two points.

Alexis Clairaut

shortened, to geodesic, was preferred.[4]

This section treats the problem on an ellipsoid of revolution (both oblate and prolate). The problem on a triaxial

ellipsoid is covered in the next section.

When determining distances on the earth, various approximate methods are frequently used; some of these

are described in the article on geographical distance.

Barnaba Oriani

aspects of surveying. Beginning in about 1830, the disciplines diverged: those with an interest in geodesy concentrated on the practical aspects such as approximations

suitable for eld work, while mathematicians pursued the

solution of geodesics on a triaxial ellipsoid, the analysis

of the stability of closed geodesics, etc.

During the 18th century geodesics were typically referred

to as shortest lines.[3] The term geodesic line was Friedrich Bessel

-dR

b

ds2 = 2 d2 + R2 d2

or

ds = 2 2 + R2 d

L(, ) d,

R(). The length of an arbitrary path between (1 , 1 )

and (2 , 2 ) is given by

R d

d

s12 =

L(, ) d,

= 2 . The shortest path or geodesic entails nding that

function () which minimizes s12 . This is an exercise in

the calculus of variations and the minimizing condition is

given by the Beltrami identity,

ds

+ d

L

= const.

Here the equations for a geodesic are developed; these

allow the geodesics of any length to be computed accurately. The following derivation closely follows that

of Bessel (1825). Bagratuni (1962, 15), Krakiwsky &

Thomson (1974, 4), Rapp (1993, 1.2), and Borre &

Strang (2012) also provide derivations of these equations.

a sin

b

Z

P

P

a and polar semi-axis b. Dene the attening f = (a

R = a cos

a

centricity e = e/(1 f). (In most applications in geodesy,

the ellipsoid is taken to be oblate, a > b; however, the theory applies without change to prolate ellipsoids, a < b, in Fig. 4. The geometric construction for parametric latitude, . A

point P at latitude on the meridian (red) is mapped to a point

which case f, e2 , and e2 are negative.)

P on a sphere of radius a (shown as a blue circle) by keeping the

length ds. From Figs. 2 and 3, we see that if its azimuth

is , then ds is related to d and d by

R sin = const.

sin ds = R d,

is the radius of the circle of latitude , and is the normal

radius of curvature. The elementary segment is therefore

given by

Clairaut (1735) rst found this relation, using a geometrical construction; a similar derivation is presented

by Lyusternik (1964, 10).[5] Dierentiating this relation and manipulating the result gives (Jekeli 2012, Eq.

(2.95))

1.1

Fig. 6. In this gure, the variables referred to the auxiliary sphere are shown with the corresponding quantities

d = sin d.

for the ellipsoid shown in parentheses. Quantities without subscripts refer to the arbitrary point P; E, the point at

This, together with Eqs. (1), leads to a system of ordinary which the geodesic crosses the equator in the northward

dierential equations for a geodesic (Borre & Strang direction, is used as the origin for , s and .

2012, Eqs. (11.71) and (11.76))

d

cos

=

;

ds

d

sin

=

;

ds

cos

cos d

d

tan sin

=

.

ds

using

[6]

+ d

R = a cos

Clairauts relation then becomes

Fig. 7), we obtain

N

12

2

1

0

E

Fig. 5.

sphere.

A

1

B

12

N

( - 0)

(s)

sin d = cos d.

for s and

cos d = d,

1 ds

d

sin

=

=

.

a d

d

sin

Up to this point, we have not made use of the specic

equations for an ellipsoid, and indeed the derivation applies to an arbitrary surface of revolution.[7] Bessel now

specializes to an ellipsoid in which R and Z are related by

()

R2

Z2

+ 2 = 1,

2

a

b

where Z is the height above the equator (see Fig. 4). Differentiating this and setting dR/dZ = sin/cos gives

R sin Z cos

= 0;

This is the sine rule of spherical trigonometry relating two

a2

b2

sides of the triangle NAB (see Fig. 5), NA = 1 , and

NB = 2 and their opposite angles B = 2 and eliminating Z from these equations, we obtain

A = 1 .

In order to nd the relation for the third side AB = 12 , R

cos

the spherical arc length, and included angle N = 12 , the a = cos = 1 e2 sin2 .

spherical longitude, it is useful to consider the triangle

NEP representing a geodesic starting at the equator; see This relation between and can be written as

and the limits on the integrals are chosen so that = 0 at

the equator crossing, = 0.

which is the normal denition of the parametric latitude continuously (not restricting it to a range [, ], for example) as the great circle, resp. geodesic, encircles the

on an ellipsoid. Furthermore, we have

auxiliary sphere, resp. ellipsoid. The quantities , , and

s are likewise allowed to increase without limit. Once the

sin

= 1 e2 cos2 ,

range.

sin

so that the dierential equations for the geodesic become This completes the solution of the path of a geodesic using the auxiliary sphere. By this device a great circle can

be mapped exactly to a geodesic on an ellipsoid of revolu

tion. However, because the equations for s and in terms

d

1 ds

=

= 1 e2 cos2 .

of the spherical quantities depend on 0 , the mapping is

a d

d

not a consistent mapping of the surface of the sphere to

The last step is to use as the independent parameter[8] in the ellipsoid or vice versa; instead, it should be viewed

both of these dierential equations and thereby to express merely as a convenient tool for solving for a particular

s and as integrals. Applying the sine rule to the vertices geodesic.

E and G in the spherical triangle EGP in Fig. 6 gives

There are also several ways of approximating geodesics

on an ellipsoid which usually apply for suciently short

lines (Rapp 1991, 6); however, these are typically comsin = sin (; 0 ) = cos 0 sin ,

parable in complexity to the method for the exact solution

given above (Jekeli 2012, 2.1.4).

where 0 is the azimuth at E. Substituting this into the

equation for ds/d and integrating the result gives

1 e2 cos2 ( ; 0 )

s

=

d

b

1f

0

=

1 + k 2 sin2 d ,

where

k = e cos 0 ,

and the limits on the integral are chosen so that s( = 0) =

0. Legendre (1811, p. 180) pointed out that the equation

for s is the same as the equation for the arc on an ellipse

with semi-axes b(1 + e2 cos2 0 )1/2 and b. In order to

express the equation for in terms of , we write

d =

sin 0

d,

cos2

Fig. 8. Meridians and the equator are the only closed geodesics.

which follows from Eq. (3) and Clairauts relation. This (For the very attened ellipsoids, there are other closed geodesics;

yields

see Figs. 13 and 14).

2

45

1 + sin

o

0 = (1 f ) sin 0

d

360

2

o

2

0

0 1 cos 0 sin

o

- 0

180

e2

o

-45 d

= sin 0

2

2

1 e cos ( ; Fig.

0 1+

0 ) 9. Latitude as a function of longitude for a single cy

2f

cle ofd

the , geodesic from one northward equatorial cross

= f sin 0

2 the next.

0 1 + (1 f ) 1 + k 2 siningto

k2

1.2

Behavior of geodesics

7

intersection.) This follows from the equations for the

geodesics given in the previous section.

+ 0 , i.e., the longitude will vary the same way as for a

sphere, jumping by each time the geodesic crosses the

pole. The distance, Eq. (4), reduces to the length of an

arc of an ellipse with semi-axes a and b (as expected),

expressed in terms of parametric latitude, .

E

ellipsoid) corresponds to 0 = . The distance reduces

to the arc of a circle of radius b (and not a), s = b, while

the longitude simplies to = (1 f) + 0 . A geodesic

that is nearly equatorial will intersect the equator at interFig. 10. Following the geodesic on the ellipsoid for about vals of b. As a consequence, the maximum length of a

5 circuits.

equatorial geodesic which is also a shortest path is b on

an oblate ellipsoid (on a prolate ellipsoid, the maximum

length is a).

All other geodesics are typied by Figs. 9 to 11. Figure

9 shows latitude as a function of longitude for a geodesic

starting on the equator with 0 = 45. A full cycle of

the geodesic, from one northward crossing of the equator to the next, is shown. The equatorial crossings are

called nodes and the points of maximum or minimum

latitude are called vertices; the vertex latitudes are given

by |β| = ( |0 |). The latitude is an odd, resp.

even, function of the longitude about the nodes, resp. vertices. The geodesic completes one full oscillation in latitude before the longitude has increased by 360. Thus,

on each successive northward crossing of the equator (see

Fig. 11. The same geodesic after about 70 circuits.

Before solving for the geodesics, it is worth reviewing Fig. 10), falls short of a full circuit of the equator by approximately 2 f sin0 (for a prolate ellipsoid, this quantity is negative and completes more that a full circuit;

see Fig. 12). For nearly all values of 0 , the geodesic

N

will ll that portion of the ellipsoid between the two vertex latitudes (see Fig. 11).

Two additional closed geodesics for the oblate ellipsoid,

b/a = 2/7.

N

E

45. Compare with Fig. 10.

which consist of the meridians (green) and the equator (red). (Here the qualication simple means that

the geodesic closes on itself without an intervening self-

If the ellipsoid is suciently oblate, i.e., b/a < , another

class of simple closed geodesics is possible (Klingenberg

1982, 3.5.19). Two such geodesics are illustrated in

Figs. 13 and 14. Here b/a = 2/7 and the equatorial azimuth, 0 , for the green (resp. blue) geodesic is chosen

to be 53.175 (resp. 75.192), so that the geodesic completes 2 (resp. 3) complete oscillations about the equator

on one circuit of the ellipsoid.

1.3

Solving the geodesic problems entails evaluating the integrals for the distance, s, and the longitude, , Eqs. (4)

and (5). In geodetic applications, where f is small, the

integrals are typically evaluated as a series; for this purpose, the second form of the longitude integral is preferred (since it avoids the near singular behavior of the

rst form when geodesics pass close to a pole). In both

integrals, the integrand is an even periodic function of

period . Furthermore, the term dependent on is multiplied by a small quantity k2 = O(f). As a consequence,

the integrals can both be written in the form

I = B0 +

In order to solve the direct geodesic problem, it is necessary to nd given s. Since the integrand in the distance integral is positive, this problem has a unique root,

which may be found using Newtons method, noting that

the required derivative is just the integrand of the distance integral. Oriani (1833) instead uses series reversion

so that can be found without iteration; Helmert (1880)

gives a similar series.[10] The reverted series converges

somewhat slower that the direct series and, if |f| > 1/100,

Karney (2013, addenda) supplements the reverted series

with one step of Newtons method to maintain accuracy.

Vincenty (1975a) instead relies on a simpler (but slower)

function iteration to solve for .

It is also possible to evaluate the integrals (4) and (5) by

numerical quadrature (Saito 1970) (Saito 1979) (Sjberg

& Shirazian 2012) or to apply numerical techniques

for the solution of the ordinary dierential equations,

Eqs. (2) (Kivioja 1971) (Thomas & Featherstone 2005)

(Panou et al. 2013). Such techniques can be used for

arbitrary attening f. However, if f is small, e.g., |f|

1/50, they do not oer the speed and accuracy of the series expansions described above. Furthermore, for arbitrary f, the evaluation of the integrals in terms of elliptic integrals (see below) also provides a fast and accurate

solution. On the other hand, Mathar (2007) has tackled

the more complex problem of geodesics on the surface at

a constant altitude, h, above the ellipsoid by solving the

corresponding ordinary dierential equations, Eqs. (2)

with [, ] replaced by [ + h, + h].

Bj sin 2j

j=1

for Bj can readily be found and the result truncated so

that only terms which are O(f J ) and larger are retained.[9]

(Because the longitude integral is multiplied by f, it is typically only necessary to retain terms up to O(f J1 ) in that

integral.) This prescription is followed by many authors

(Legendre 1806) (Oriani 1806) (Bessel 1825) (Helmert

1880) (Rainsford 1955) (Rapp 1993). Vincenty (1975a)

uses J = 3 which provides an accuracy of about 0.1 mm

for the WGS84 ellipsoid. Karney (2013) gives expansions

carried out for J = 6 which suces to provide full double

precision accuracy for |f| 1/50. Trigonometric series

of this type can be conveniently summed using Clenshaw

summation.

A. M. Legendre

elliptic integrals. In particular, Legendre (1811) writes

the integrals, Eqs. (4) and (5), as

1.4

9

19.2(ii)).[11][12] The rst formula for the longitude in

Eq. (7) follows directly from the rst form of Eq. (5).

The second formula in Eq. (7), due to Cayley (1870),

is more convenient for calculation since the elliptic integral appears in a small term. The equivalence of the two

forms follows from DLMF (2010, Eq. (19.7.8)). Fast

algorithms for computing elliptic integrals are given by

Carlson (1995) in terms of symmetric elliptic integrals.

Equation (6) is conveniently inverted using Newtons

method. The use of elliptic integrals provides a good

method of solving the geodesic problem for |f| > 1/50.[13]

The basic strategy for solving the geodesic problems on

the ellipsoid is to map the problem onto the auxiliary

sphere by converting , , and s, to , and , to solve

the corresponding great-circle problem on the sphere, and

to transfer the results back to the ellipsoid.

In implementing this program, we will frequently need to

solve the elementary spherical triangle for NEP in Fig.

6 with P replaced by either A (subscript 1) or B (subscript

2). For this purpose, we can apply Napiers rules for quadrantal triangles to the triangle NEP on the auxiliary sphere

which give

Arthur Cayley

cos = cos cos 0 = cot tan ,

sin = cos 0 sin = cot tan ,

s

= E(, ik),

b

= (1 f ) sin 0 G(, cos2 0 , ik)

e

sin 0 H(, e2 , ik),

1 + e2

where

tan =

1 + e2

tan ,

1 + k 2 sin2

and

1 k 2 sin2

G(, , k) =

d

1 2 sin2

0

(

)

k2

k2

= 2 F (, k) + 1 2 (, 2 , k),

2

cos

H(, 2 , k) =

d

2

2

2

0 (1 sin ) 1 k 2 sin

(

)

1

1

= 2 F (, k) + 1 2 (, 2 , k),

Implementing this plan for the direct problem is straightforward. We are given 1 , 1 , and s12 . From 1 we

obtain 1 (using the formula for the parametric latitude).

We now solve the triangle problem with P = A and 1 and

1 given to nd 0 , 1 , and 1 .[15] Use the distance and

longitude equations, Eqs. (4) and (5), together with the

known value of 1 , to nd s1 and 0 . Determine s2 = s1 +

s12 and invert the distance equation to nd 2 . Solve the

triangle problem with P = B and 0 and 2 given to nd

2 , 2 , and 2 . Convert 2 to 2 and substitute 2 and

2 into the longitude equation to give 2 .[16]

The overall method follows the procedure for solving the

direct problem on a sphere. It is essentially the program

laid out by Bessel (1825),[17] Helmert (1880, 5.9), and

most subsequent authors.

found by holding 1 and 1 xed and solving the direct

problem for several values of s12 . Once the rst waypoint

is found, only the last portion of the solution (starting with

and F(, k), E(, k), and (, 2 , k), are incomplete the determination of s2 ) needs to be repeated for each

elliptic integrals in the notation of DLMF (2010, new value of s12 .

10

1.5

The ease with which the direct problem can be solved results from the fact that given 1 and 1 , we can immediately nd 0 , the parameter in the distance and longitude

integrals, Eqs. (4) and (5). In the case of the inverse

problem, we are given 12 , but we cannot easily relate

this to the equivalent spherical angle 12 because 0 is

unknown. Thus, the solution of the problem requires that

0 be found iteratively. Before tackling this, it is worth

understanding better the behavior of geodesics, this time,

keeping the starting point xed and varying the azimuth.

Geodesics from a single point (f = 1/10, 1 = 30)

o

30

30

60

1 = 90

-30

120

150

-60

45

90

180

o

135

- 1

180

increased to 1/10 in order to accentuate the ellipsoidal effects.) Also shown (in green) are curves of constant s12 ,

which are the geodesic circles centered A. Gauss (1828)

showed that, on any surface, geodesics and geodesic circle intersect at right angles. The red line is the cut locus,

the locus of points which have multiple (two in this case)

shortest geodesics from A. On a sphere, the cut locus is a

point. On an oblate ellipsoid (shown here), it is a segment

of the circle of latitude centered on the point antipodal to

A, = 1 . The longitudinal extent of cut locus is approximately 12 [ f cos1 , + f cos1 ]. If

A lies on the equator, 1 = 0, this relation is exact and

as a consequence the equator is only a shortest geodesic

if |λ<sub>12</sub>| (1 f). For a prolate

ellipsoid, the cut locus is a segment of the anti-meridian

centered on the point antipodal to A, 12 = , and this

means that meridional geodesics stop being shortest paths

before the antipodal point is reached.

The solution of the inverse problem involves determining, for a given point B with latitude 2 and longitude 2

which blue and green curves it lies on; this determines 1

and s12 respectively. In Fig. 16, the ellipsoid has been

rolled out onto a plate carre projection. Suppose 2 =

20, the green line in the gure. Then as 1 is varied between 0 and 180, the longitude at which the geodesic intersects = 2 varies between 0 and 180 (see Fig. 17).

This behavior holds provided that |φ<sub>2</sub>|

|1 | (otherwise the geodesic does not reach 2 for some

values of 1 ). Thus, the inverse problem may be solved

by determining the value 1 which results in the given

value of 12 when the geodesic intersects the circle =

2 .

This suggests the following strategy for solving the inverse

problem (Karney 2013). Assume that the points A and B

satisfy

o

1 0,

|2 | |1 | ,

0 12 .

180

12

the symmetries of the problem can be used to generate

any conguration of points from such congurations.)

o

90

meridian or the equator. Otherwise...

2. Guess a value of 1 .

90

180

20.

1 , 2 , and 1 nd 12 , s12 , and 2 , corresponding

to the rst intersection of the geodesic with the circle

= 2 .

4. Compare the resulting 12 with the desired value and

adjust 1 until the two values agree. This completes

the solution.

and 1 = 0. Fig. 15 shows geodesics (in blue) emanating A with 1 a multiple of 15 up to the point at which Each of these steps requires some discussion.

1.5

11

meridian if either point lies on a pole or if 12 = 0 or .

The shortest geodesic follows the equator if 1 = 2 = 0

and |λ<sub>12</sub>| (1 f). For a prolate

ellipsoid, the meridian is no longer the shortest geodesic

if 12 = and the points are close to antipodal (this will

be discussed in the next section). There is no longitudinal

restriction on equatorial geodesics.

2. In most cases a suitable starting value of 1 is found

by solving the spherical inverse problem[14]

tan 1 =

cos 2 sin 12

,

cos 1 sin 2 sin 1 cos 2 cos 12

and B are nearly antipodal (both the numerator and denominator in the formula above become small); however,

this may not matter (depending on how step 4 is handled).

3. The solution of the hybrid geodesic problem is as follows. It starts the same way as the solution of the direct

problem, solving the triangle NEP with P = A to nd 0 ,

1 , 1 , and 0 .[18] Now nd 2 from sin2 = sin0 /cos2 ,

taking cos2 0 (corresponding to the rst, northward,

crossing of the circle = 2 ). Next, 2 is given by tan2

= tan2 /cos2 and 2 by tan2 = tan2 /sin0 .[14] Finally, use the distance and longitude equations, Eqs. (4)

and (5), to nd s12 and 12 .[19]

4. In order to discuss how 1 is updated, let us dene the

root-nding problem in more detail. The curve in Fig.

17 shows 12 (1 ; 1 , 2 ) where we regard 1 and 2 as

parameters and 1 as the independent variable. We seek

the value of 1 which is the root of

g(1 ) 12 (1 ; 1 , 2 ) 12 = 0,

where g(0) 0 and g() 0. In fact, there is a unique

root in the interval 1 [0, ]. Any of a number of rootnding algorithms can be used to solve such an equation.

Karney (2013) uses Newtons method, which requires a

good starting guess; however it may be supplemented by

a fail-safe method, such as the bisection method, to guarantee convergence.

An alternative method for solving the inverse problem is

given by Helmert (1880, 5.13). Let us rewrite the Eq.

(5) as

F. R. Helmert

12 = 12 + f sin 0 I(1 , 2 ; 0 ).

This xed point iteration is repeated until convergence.

Rainsford (1955) advocates this method and Vincenty

(1975a) adopted it in his solution of the inverse problem. The drawbacks of this method are that convergence is slower than obtained using Newtons method (as

described above) and, more seriously, that the process

fails to converge at all for nearly antipodal points. In

a subsequent report, Vincenty (1975b) attempts to cure

this defect; but he is only partially successfulthe NGS

(2012) implementation still includes Vincentys x still

fails to converge in some cases. Lee (2011) has compared 17 methods for solving the inverse problem against

the method given by Karney (2013).

The shortest distance returned by the solution of the inverse problem is (obviously) uniquely dened. However,

if B lies on the cut locus of A there are multiple azimuths

which yield the same shortest distance. Here is a catalog

of those cases:

1 = 2 (with neither point at a pole). If 1 =

2 , the geodesic is unique. Otherwise there are two

geodesics and the second one is obtained by interchanging 1 and 2 . (This occurs when 12

for oblate ellipsoids.)

2f

d

2

1 1 + (1 f ) 1 + k 2 sin

= 12 f sin 0 I(1 , 2 ; 0 ).

12 = 12 f sin 0

Helmerts method entails assuming that 12 = 12 , solving the resulting problem on auxiliary sphere, and obtaining an updated estimate of 12 using

, the geodesic is unique. Otherwise there are two

geodesics and the second one is obtained by negating 1 and 2 . (This occurs when 1 + 2 0 for

prolate ellipsoids.)

many geodesics which can be generated by varying

12

the azimuths so as to keep 1 + 2 constant. (For Various problems involving geodesics require knowing

spheres, this prescription applies when A and B are their behavior when they are perturbed. This is useful

antipodal.)

in trigonometric adjustments (Ehlert 1993), determining

the physical properties of signals which follow geodesics,

etc. Consider a reference geodesic, parameterized by s

the length from the northward equator crossing, and a

1.6 Dierential behavior of geodesics

second geodesic a small distance t(s) away from it. Gauss

(1828) showed that t(s) obeys the Gauss-Jacobi equation

d2 t(s)

= K(s)t(s),

ds2

d1

m12d1

B

A

dt1

A

M12dt1

B

C. F. Gauss

where

m(s1 , s1 ) = 0,

M (s1 , s1 ) = 1,

dm(s1 , s2 )

= 1,

ds2

s2 =s1

dM (s1 , s2 )

= 0.

ds2

s2 =s1

length, and M(s1 , s2 ) = M 12 , the geodesic scale.[20] Their

basic denitions are illustrated in Fig. 18. Christoel

(1869) made an extensive study of their properties. The

reduced length obeys a reciprocity relation,

m12 + m21 = 0.

Their derivatives are

dm12

= M21 ,

ds2

dM12

1 M12 M21

=

.

ds2

m12

E. B. Christoel

then the following addition rules apply (Karney 2013),

1.7

13

condition (Jacobi 1837) (Jacobi 1866, 6) (Forsyth 1927,

m13 = m12 M23 + m23 M21 ,

2627) (Bliss 1916), that there is no point conjugate to

m23

A between A and B. If this condition is not satised, then

M13 = M12 M23 (1 M12 M21 )

,

m12

there is a nearby path (not necessarily a geodesic) which

m12

is shorter. Thus, the Jacobi condition is a local property

.

M31 = M32 M21 (1 M23 M32 )

m23

of the geodesic and is only a necessary condition for the

The reduced length and the geodesic scale are compo- geodesic being a global shortest path. Necessary and sufcient conditions for a geodesic being the shortest path

nents of the Jacobi eld.

are:

The Gaussian curvature for an ellipsoid of revolution is

for an oblate ellipsoid, |12 | ;

K=

(1 e2 sin2 )2

b2

1

=

= 4

.

2

b

a (1 e2 cos2 )2

equation for this case obtaining

0, the supplemental condition m12 0 is required if

|12 | = .

whether the shortest path is a meridian in the case of

m12 /b = 1 + k 2 sin2 2 cos 1 sin 2 1 + k 2 sin2 The

1 cos 2required to solve the inverse method usderivative

1 sin

(

)

ing Newtons method, 12 (1 ; 1 , 2 ) / 1 , is given in

cos 1 cos 2 J(2 ) J(1 ) ,

terms of the reduced length (Karney 2013, Eq. (46)).

1 + k 2 sin2 2

M12 = cos 1 cos 2 +

sin 1 sin 2

1 + k 2 sin2 1

(

)

1.7 Geodesic map projections

sin 1 cos 2 J(2 ) J(1 )

,

Two map projections are dened in terms of geodesics.

1 + k 2 sin2 1

They are based on polar and rectangular geodesic coordiwhere

nates on the surface (Gauss 1828). The polar coordinate

system (r, ) is centered on some point A. The coordinates of another point B are given by r = s12 and =

2

k 2 sin

1 and these coordinates are used to nd the projected

d

J() =

0

1 + k 2 sin2

coordinates on a plane map, x = r cos and y = r sin.

The result is the familiar azimuthal equidistant projec= E(, ik) F (, ik).

tion; in the eld of the dierential geometry of surfaces,

As we see from Fig. 18 (top sub-gure), the separation it is called the exponential map. Due to the basic propof two geodesics starting at the same point with azimuths erties of geodesics (Gauss 1828), lines of constant r and

diering by d1 is m12 d1 . On a closed surface such as lines of constant intersect at right angles on the surface.

an ellipsoid, we expect m12 to oscillate about zero. In- The scale of the projection in the radial direction is unity,

deed, if the starting point of a geodesic is a pole, 1 = while the scale in the azimuthal direction is s12 /m12 .

, then the reduced length is the radius of the circle of

The rectangular coordinate system (x, y) uses a reference

latitude, m12 = a cos2 = a sin12 . Similarly, for a meridgeodesic dened by A and 1 as the x axis. The point (x,

ional geodesic starting on the equator, 1 = 1 = 0, we

y) is found by traveling a distance s13 = x from A along

have M 12 = cos12 . In the typical case, these quantities

the reference geodesic to an intermediate point C and

oscillate with a period of about 2 in 12 and grow linthen turning counter-clockwise and traveling along a

early with distance at a rate proportional to f. In trigonogeodesic a distance s32 = y. If A is on the equator and 1 =

metric adjustments over small areas, it may be possible

, this gives the equidistant cylindrical projection. If 1

to approximate K(s) in Eq. (9) by a constant K. In this

= 0, this gives the Cassini-Soldner projection. Cassinis

limit, the solutions for m12 and M 12 are the same as for

map of France placed A at the Paris Observatory. Due to

a sphere of radius 1/K, namely,

the basic properties of geodesics (Gauss 1828), lines of

constant x and lines of constant y intersect at right angles

on the surface. The scale of the projection in the y direcm12 = sin( Ks12 )/ K, M12 = cos( Ks12 ).

tion is unity, while the scale in the x direction is 1/M 32 .

To simplify the discussion of shortest paths in this paragraph we consider only geodesics with s12 > 0. The point

at which m12 becomes zero is the point conjugate to the

starting point. In order for a geodesic between A and B, of

where all geodesics (i.e., great circles) map to straight

lines (making it a convenient aid to navigation). Such

a projection is only possible for surfaces of constant

14

Gaussian curvature (Beltrami 1865). Thus a projection

in which geodesics map to straight lines is not possible

for an ellipsoid. However, it is possible to construct an ellipsoidal gnomonic projection in which this property approximately holds (Karney 2013, 8). On the sphere, the

gnomonic projection is the limit of a doubly azimuthal

projection, a projection preserving the azimuths from

two points A and B, as B approaches A. Carrying out

this limit in the case of a general surface yields an azimuthal projection in which the distance from the center of projection is given by = m12 /M 12 . Even though

geodesics are only approximately straight in this projection, all geodesics through the center of projection are

straight. The projection can then be used to give an iterative but rapidly converging method of solving some

problems involving geodesics, in particular, nding the

intersection of two geodesics and nding the shortest path

from a point to a geodesic.

4

A

2 = 26, 12 = 175.

The geodesics from a particular point A if continued past

the cut locus form an envelope illustrated in Fig. 19. Here

the geodesics for which 1 is a multiple of 3 are shown

in light blue. (The geodesics are only shown for their rst

passage close to the antipodal point, not for subsequent

ones.) Some geodesic circles are shown in green; these

form cusps on the envelope. The cut locus is shown in red.

The envelope is the locus of points which are conjugate

to A; points on the envelope may be computed by nding

the point at which m12 = 0 on a geodesic (and Newtons

method can be used to nd this point). Jacobi (1891) calls

this star-like gure produced by the envelope an astroid.

the azimuthal equidistant projection (Hammer 1910). A

geodesic is constructed from a central point A to some

other point B. The polar coordinates of the projection of

B are r = s12 and = 2 (which depends on the

azimuth at B, instead of at A). This can be used to determine the direction from an arbitrary point to some xed

center. Hinks (1929) suggested another application: if

the central point A is a beacon, such as the Rugby Clock,

then at an unknown location B the range and the bearing

to A can be measured and the projection can be used to Outside the astroid two geodesics intersect at each point;

estimate the location of B.

thus there are two geodesics (with a length approximately

half the circumference of the ellipsoid) between A and

these points. This corresponds to the situation on the

sphere where there are short and long routes on a

great circle between two points. Inside the astroid four

geodesics intersect at each point. Four such geodesics are

shown in Fig. 20 where the geodesics are numbered in order of increasing length. (This gure uses the same position for A as Fig. 15 and is drawn in the same projection.)

1.8 Envelope of geodesics

The two shorter geodesics are stable, i.e., m12 > 0, so that

there is no nearby path connecting the two points which is

shorter; the other two are unstable. Only the shortest line

Geodesics from a single point (f = 1/10, 1 = 30)

(the rst one) has 12 . All the geodesics are tangent

to the envelope which is shown in green in the gure. A

similar set of geodesics for the WGS84 ellipsoid is given

in this table (Karney 2011, Table 1):

The approximate shape of the astroid is given by

x2/3 + y 2/3 = 1

or, in parametric form,

x = cos3 ,

Fig. 19. The envelope of geodesics from a point A at 1

= 30.

y = sin3 .

1.10

Software implementations

15

x

y

+

= 1,

cos

sin

S12 =

R22 (2 1 )+b2

1

tanh1 (e sin ) R22

+

2

2e sin

b

2(1 e2 sin2 )

of the trammel of Archimedes.) This aids in nding a where the integral is over the geodesic line (so that is

good starting guess for 1 for Newtons method for in implicitly a function of ). Converting this into an integral

inverse problem in the case of nearly antipodal points over , we obtain

(Karney 2013, 5).

2

The astroid is the (exterior) evolute of the geodesic circles

t(e2 ) t(k 2 sin2 ) sin

centered at A. Likewise, the geodesic circles are involutes S12 = R22 E12 e2 a2 cos 0 sin 0

d,

2

e2 k 2 sin2

1

of the astroid.

where

1.9

The area of such a polygon may be found by rst computing the area between a geodesic segment and the equator, i.e., the area of the quadrilateral AFHB in Fig. 1

(Danielsen 1989). Once this area is known, the area of a

polygon may be computed by summing the contributions

from all the edges of the polygon.

t(x) = 1 + x +

sinh1 x

1+x

,

x

excess. The integral can be expressed as a series valid for

small f (Danielsen 1989) (Karney 2013, 6 and addendum).

Here we develop the formula for the area S 12 of AFHB The area of a geodesic polygon is given by summing S 12

following Sjberg (2006). The area of any closed region over its edges. This result holds provided2that the polygon

does not include a pole; if it does 2 R2 must be added

of the ellipsoid is

to the sum. If the edges are specied by their vertices,

then a convenient expression for E 12 is

1

T = dT =

cos d d,

K

sin 12 (2 + 1 )

12

E12

tan

tan

=

.

where dT is an element of surface area and K is the

1

2

2

cos 2 (2 1 )

Gaussian curvature. Now the GaussBonnet theorem applied to a geodesic polygon states

This result follows from one of Napiers analogies.

K dT =

cos d d,

is provided by NGS (2012). Version 3.0 includes Vincentys treatment of nearly antipodal points (Vincenty

= 2

j

geographic information systems. Except for nearly anj

tipodal points (where the inverse method fails to conis the geodesic excess and j is the exterior angle at vertex verge), this method is accurate to about 0.1 mm for the

j. Multiplying the equation for by R2 2 , where R2 is the WGS84 ellipsoid (Karney 2011, 9).

authalic radius, and subtracting this from the equation for The algorithms given in Karney (2013) are included in

T gives[21]

GeographicLib (Karney 2015). These are accurate to

about 15 nanometers for the WGS84 ellipsoid. Implementations in several languages (C++, C, Fortran, Java,

)

(

1

JavaScript, Python, Matlab, and Maxima) are provided.

2

2

T = R2 +

R2 cos d d

K

In addition to solving the basic geodesic problem, this li)

(

brary can return m12 , M 12 , M 21 , and S 12 . The library

b2

2

= R22 +

R

2 cos d d, includes a command-line utility, GeodSolve, for geodesic

2

2

2

(1 e sin )

calculations. As of version 4.9.1, the PROJ.4 library for

where the value of K for an ellipsoid has been substituted. cartographic projections uses the C implementation for

Applying this formula to the quadrilateral AFHB, noting geodesic calculations. This is exposed in the commandthat = 2 1 , and performing the integral over gives line utility, geod, and in the library itself.

where

16

The solution of the geodesic problems in terms of elliptic integrals is included in GeographicLib (in C++ only),

e.g., via the -E option to GeodSolve. This method of solution is about 23 times slower than using series expansions; however it provides accurate solutions for ellipsoids

of revolution with b/a [0.01, 100] (Karney 2013, addenda).

Solving the geodesic problem for an ellipsoid of revolution is, from the mathematical point of view, relatively

simple: because of symmetry, geodesics have a constant

of the motion, given by Clairauts relation allowing the

problem to be reduced to quadrature. By the early 19th

century (with the work of Legendre, Oriani, Bessel, et

al.), there was a complete understanding of the properties of geodesics on an ellipsoid of revolution.

On the other hand, geodesics on a triaxial ellipsoid (with

3 unequal axes) have no obvious constant of the motion Charles Dupin

and thus represented a challenging unsolved problem

in the rst half of the 19th century. In a remarkable paper, Jacobi (1839) discovered a constant of the motion

X2

Y2

Z2

allowing this problem to be reduced to quadrature also h = 2 + 2 + 2 = 1,

a

b

c

(Klingenberg 1982, 3.5).[22][23]

where (X,Y,Z) are Cartesian coordinates centered on the

ellipsoid and, without loss of generality, a b c > 0.[24]

A point on the surface is specied by a latitude and longi2.1 Triaxial coordinate systems

tude. The geographical latitude and longitude (, ) are

dened by

cos cos

h

= cos sin .

|h|

sin

The parametric latitude and longitude (, ) are dened

by

X = a cos cos ,

Y = b cos sin ,

Z = c sin .

Jacobi (1866, 2627) employed the ellipsoidal latitude

and longitude (, ) dened by

Gaspard Monge

a2 b2 sin2 c2 cos2

X = a cos

,

a2 c2

Y = b cos sin ,

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2 c2

Z = c sin

.

a2 c2

right coordinate system. Consider the ellipsoid dened In the limit b a, becomes the parametric latitude for

an oblate ellipsoid, so the use of the symbol is consistent

by

2.2

Jacobis solution

17

ds2

b2 sin2 + c2 cos2

=

d 2

(a2 b2 ) sin2 + (b2 c2 ) cos2

a2 b2 sin2 c2 cos2

+

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2

d

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2 c2

a2 b2 sin2 c2 cos2

b2 sin2 + c2 cos2

(a2 b2 ) sin2 + (b2 c2 ) cos2

d

1

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2 c

=

ds

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2

(a2 b2 ) sin2 + (b2 c2 ) cos2

d

=

ds

the spherical longitude dened above.[25]

d

1

=

2

2

2

ds

((a b ) sin + (b2 c2 ) cos2 )3/2

( 2

(a b2 ) cos sin a2 sin2 + b2 cos2 c2

cos

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2

)

(b2 c2 ) cos sin a2 b2 sin2 c2 cos2

sin .

+

b2 sin2 + c2 cos2

given in Fig. 21. In contrast to (, ) and (, ), (, ) is

an orthogonal coordinate system: the grid lines intersect

at right angles. The principal sections of the ellipsoid,

2.2

dened by X = 0 and Z = 0 are shown in red. The third

principal section, Y = 0, is covered by the lines = 90

and = 0 or 180. These lines meet at four umbilical

points (two of which are visible in this gure) where the

principal radii of curvature are equal. Here and in the

other gures in this section the parameters of the ellipsoid

are a:b:c = 1.01:1:0.8, and it is viewed in an orthographic

projection from a point above = 40, = 30.

Jacobis solution

The grid lines of the ellipsoidal coordinates may be interpreted in three dierent ways

1. They are lines of curvature on the ellipsoid, i.e.,

they are parallel to the directions of principal curvature (Monge 1796).

2. They are also intersections of the ellipsoid with

confocal systems of hyperboloids of one and two

sheets (Dupin 1813, Part 5).

3. Finally they are geodesic ellipses and hyperbolas dened using two adjacent umbilical points (Hilbert &

Cohn-Vossen 1952, p. 188). For example, the lines

of constant in Fig. 21 can be generated with the

C. G. J. Jacobi

familiar string construction for ellipses with the ends

of the string pinned to the two umbilical points.

Jacobi showed that the geodesic equations, expressed in

ellipsoidal coordinates, are separable. Here is how he reConversions between these three types of latitudes and counted his discovery to his friend and neighbor Bessel

longitudes and the Cartesian coordinates are simple alge- (Jacobi 1839, Letter to Bessel),

braic exercises.

The element of length on the ellipsoid in ellipsoidal coordinates is given by

quadrature the problem of geodesic lines on

18

28) is

b2 sin2 + c2 cos2 d

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2 d

As Jacobi notes a function of the angle equals a function of the angle . These two functions are just Abelian

integrals... Two constants and appear in the solution.

Typically is zero if the lower limits of the integrals are

taken to be the starting point of the geodesic and the direction of the geodesics is determined by . However,

for geodesics that start at an umbilical points, we have

= 0 and determines the direction at the umbilical point.

The constant may be expressed as

Joseph Liouville

where is the angle the geodesic makes with lines of constant . In the limit b a, this reduces to sin cos =

const., the familiar Clairaut relation. A nice derivation of

Jacobis result is given by Darboux (1894, 583584)

where he gives the solution found by Liouville (1846) for

general quadratic surfaces. In this formulation, the distance along the geodesic, s, is found using

ds

b2 sin2 + c2 cos2

2

(a2 b2 ) sin + (b2 c2 ) cos2

a2 b2 sin2 c2 cos2 (b2

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2

=

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2 c2 (a

J. G. Darboux

the simplest formulas in the world, Abelian

integrals, which become the well known

elliptic integrals if 2 axes are set equal.

Knigsberg, 28th Dec. '38.

The solution given by Jacobi (Jacobi 1839) (Jacobi 1866,

ds =

a2 b2 sin2 c2 cos2

+

.

a2 sin2 + b2 cos2 c2

2.3

2.3

19

Transpolar geodesics, 1 = 90, 1 = 180.

Fig. 22. 1 = 45.1.

Fig. 23. 1 = 87.48.

On a triaxial ellipsoid, there are only 3 simple closed

geodesics, the three principal sections of the ellipsoid

given by X = 0, Y = 0, and Z = 0.[26] To survey the other

geodesics, it is convenient to consider geodesics which intersect the middle principal section, Y = 0, at right angles.

Such geodesics are shown in Figs. 2226, which use the

same ellipsoid parameters and the same viewing direction as Fig. 21. In addition, the three principal ellipses

are shown in red in each of these gures.

If the starting point is 1 (90, 90), 1 = 0, and 1

= 90, then > 0 and the geodesic encircles the ellipsoid in a circumpolar sense. The geodesic oscillates

north and south of the equator; on each oscillation it completes slightly less that a full circuit around the ellipsoid

resulting, in the typical case, in the geodesic lling the

area bounded by the two latitude lines = 1 . Two examples are given in Figs. 22 and 23. Figure 22 shows

practically the same behavior as for an oblate ellipsoid of

revolution (because a b); compare to Fig. 11. However, if the starting point is at a higher latitude (Fig. 22)

the distortions resulting from a b are evident. All tangents to a circumpolar geodesic touch the confocal singlesheeted hyperboloid which intersects the ellipsoid at

= 1 (Chasles 1846) (Hilbert & Cohn-Vossen 1952, pp.

223224).

= 180, then < 0 and the geodesic encircles the ellipsoid

in a transpolar sense. The geodesic oscillates east and

west of the ellipse X = 0; on each oscillation it completes

slightly more that a full circuit around the ellipsoid resulting, in the typical case, in the geodesic lling the area

bounded by the two longitude lines = 1 and = 180

1 . If a = b, all meridians are geodesics; the eect of a

b causes such geodesics to oscillate east and west. Two

examples are given in Figs. 24 and 25. The constriction

of the geodesic near the pole disappears in the limit b

c; in this case, the ellipsoid becomes a prolate ellipsoid

and Fig. 24 would resemble Fig. 12 (rotated on its side).

All tangents to a transpolar geodesic touch the confocal

double-sheeted hyperboloid which intersects the ellipsoid

at = 1 .

If the starting point is 1 = 90, 1 = 0 (an umbilical

point), and 1 = 135 (the geodesic leaves the ellipse Y

= 0 at right angles), then = 0 and the geodesic repeatedly intersects the opposite umbilical point and returns

to its starting point. However, on each circuit the angle at

which it intersects Y = 0 becomes closer to 0 or 180 so

that asymptotically the geodesic lies on the ellipse Y = 0

(Hart 1849) (Arnold 1989, p. 265). This is shown in Fig.

26. Note that a single geodesic does not ll an area on

the ellipsoid. All tangents to umbilical geodesics touch

the confocal hyperbola which intersects the ellipsoid at

20

3 APPLICATIONS

Umbilical geodesic enjoy several interesting properties.

Through any point on the ellipsoid, there are two

umbilical geodesics.

The geodesic distance between opposite umbilical

points is the same regardless of the initial direction Karl Weierstrass

of the geodesic.

Whereas the closed geodesics on the ellipses X = 0

and Z = 0 are stable (an geodesic initially close to

and nearly parallel to the ellipse remains close to the

ellipse), the closed geodesic on the ellipse Y = 0,

which goes through all 4 umbilical points, is exponentially unstable. If it is perturbed, it will swing

out of the plane Y = 0 and ip around before returning to close to the plane. (This behavior may repeat

depending on the nature of the initial perturbation.)

If the starting point A of a geodesic is not an umbilical

point, then its envelope is an astroid with two cusps lying

on = 1 and the other two on = 1 + (Sinclair

2003). The cut locus for A is the portion of the line =

1 between the cusps (Itoh & Kiyohara 2004).

(Panou 2013) gives a method for solving the inverse problem for a triaxial ellipsoid by directly integrating the system of ordinary dierential equations for a geodesic.

(Thus, it does not utilize Jacobis solution.)

Applications

The direct and inverse geodesic problems no longer play Henri Poincar

the central role in geodesy that they once did. Instead

of solving adjustment of geodetic networks as a twodimensional problem in spheroidal trigonometry, these (Vincenty & Bowring 1978). Nevertheless, terrestrial

problem are now solved by three-dimensional methods geodesics still play an important role in several areas:

21

for measuring distances and areas in geographic information systems;

the denition of maritime boundaries (UNCLOS

2006);

in the rules of the Federal Aviation Administration

for area navigation (RNAV 2007);

the method of measuring distances in the FAI Sporting Code (FAI 2013).

By the principle of least action, many problems in physics

can be formulated as a variational problem similar to that

for geodesics. Indeed, the geodesic problem is equivalent to the motion of a particle constrained to move on

the surface, but otherwise subject to no forces (Laplace

1799a) (Hilbert & Cohn-Vossen 1952, p. 222). For this

reason, geodesics on simple surfaces such as ellipsoids of

revolution or triaxial ellipsoids are frequently used as test

cases for exploring new methods. Examples include:

the development of elliptic integrals (Legendre

1811) and elliptic functions (Weierstrass 1861);

the development of dierential geometry (Gauss

1828) (Christoel 1869);

methods for solving systems of dierential equations

by a change of independent variables (Jacobi 1839);

the study of caustics (Jacobi 1891);

investigations into the number and stability of periodic orbits (Poincar 1905);

in the limit c 0, geodesics on a triaxial ellipsoid

reduce to a case of dynamical billiards;

extensions to an arbitrary number of dimensions

(Knrrer 1980);

geodesic ow on a surface (Berger 2010, Chap. 12).

5 Notes

[1] Here 2 is the forward azimuth at B. Some authors calculate the back azimuth instead; this is given by 2 .

[2] This prompted a courteous note by Oriani (1826) noting

his previous work, of which, presumably, Bessel was unaware, and also a thinly veiled accusation of plagiarism

from Ivory (1826) (his phrase was second-hand from

Germany), which resulted in an angry rebuttal by Bessel

(1827).

[3] Clairaut (1735) uses the circumlocution perpendiculars

to the meridian"; this refers to Cassinis proposed map

projection for France (Cassini 1735) where one of the coordinates was the distance from the Paris meridian.

[4] Kummell (1883) attempted to introduce the word

brachisthode for geodesic. This eort failed.

[5] Laplace (1799a) showed that a particle constrained to

move on a surface but otherwise subject to no forces

moves along a geodesic for that surface. Thus, Clairauts

relation is just a consequence of conservation of angular

momentum for a particle on a surface of revolution. A

similar proof is given by Bomford (1952, 8.06).

[6] In terms of , the element of distance on the ellipsoid is

given by ds2 = (a2 sin2 2 + b2 cos2 ) d2 + a2 cos2 d2 .

[7] It may be useful to impose the restriction that the surface

have a positive curvature everywhere so that the latitude

be single valued function of Z.

[8] Other choices of independent parameter are possible. In

particular many authors use the vertex of a geodesic (the

point of maximum latitude) as the origin for .

[9] Nowadays, the necessary algebraic manipulations, expanding in a Taylor series, integration, and performing trigonometric simplications, can be carrying using

a computer algebra system. Earlier, Levallois & Dupuy

(1952) gave recurrence relations for the series in terms of

Wallis integrals and Pittman (1986) describes a similar

method.

[10] Legendre (1806, Art. 13) also gives a series for in terms

of s; but this is not suitable for large distances.

[11] Despite the presence of i = 1, the elliptic integrals in

Eqs. (6) and (7) are real.

See also

Geographical distance

Great-circle navigation

Geodesics

Geodesy

Meridian arc

Rhumb line

Vincentys formulae

[12] Rollins (2010) obtains dierent, but equivalent, expressions in terms of elliptic integrals.

[13] It is also possible to express the integrals in terms of Jacobi

elliptic functions (Jacobi 1855) (Luther 1855) (Forsyth

1896) (Thomas 1970, Appendix 1). Halphen (1888) gives

the solution for the complex quantities R exp(i) = X

iY in terms of Weierstrass sigma and zeta functions. This

form is of interest because the separate periods of latitude and longitude of the geodesic are captured in a single

doubly periodic function; see also Forsyth (1927, 75.)

[14] When solving for , , or using a formula for its tangent,

the quadrant should be determined from the signs of the

numerator of the expression for the tangent, e.g., using the

atan2 function.

22

[16] Because tan = sin0 tan, changes quadrants in step

with . It is therefore straightforward to express 2 so that

12 indicates how often and in what sense the geodesic has

encircled the ellipsoid.

[17] Bessel (1825) treated the longitude integral approximately

in order to reduce the number of parameters in the equation from two to one so that it could be tabulated conveniently.

[18] If 1 = 2 = 0, take sin1 = sin1 = 0, consistent with

the relations (8); this gives 1 = 1 = .

[19] The ordering in relations (8) automatically results in 12

> 0.

[20] Bagratuni (1962, 17) uses the term coecient of convergence of ordinates for the geodesic scale.

[21] Sjberg (2006) multiplies by b2 instead of R2 2 . However, this leads to a singular integrand (Karney 2011, 15).

[22] This section is adapted from the documentation for GeographicLib (Karney 2015, Geodesics on a triaxial ellipsoid)

[23] Even though Jacobi and Weierstrass (1861) use terrestrial

geodesics as the motivation for their work, a triaxial ellipsoid approximates the Earth only slightly better than an ellipsoid of revolution. A better approximation to the shape

of the Earth is given by the geoid. However, geodesics on

a surface of the complexity of the geoid are partly chaotic

(Waters 2011).

[24] This notation for the semi-axes is incompatible with that

used in the previous section on ellipsoids of revolution,

where a and b stood for the equatorial radius and polar

semi-axis. Thus the corresponding inequalities are a = a

b > 0 for an oblate ellipsoid and b a = a > 0 for a

prolate ellipsoid.

[25] The limit b c gives a prolate ellipsoid with playing

the role of the parametric latitude.

[26] If c/a < , there are other simple closed geodesics similar

to those shown in Figs. 13 and 14 (Klingenberg 1982,

3.5.19).

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EXTERNAL LINKS

Waters, T. J. (2012).

Regular and irregular geodesics on spherical harmonic

surfaces.

Physica D: Nonlinear PhenomarXiv:1112.3231.

ena 241 (5): 543552.

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Berlin (in German): 986997. PDF.

7 External links

Online geodesic bibliography, approximately 180

books and articles on geodesics on ellipsoids together with links to online copies.

Implementations of Vincenty (1975a) for oblate ellipsoids:

NGS implementation, includes modications

described in Vincenty (1975b).

NGS online tools.

Online calculator from Geoscience Australia.

Javascript implementations of solutions to

direct problem and inverse problem.

Implementation of Karney (2013) for ellipsoids of

revolution in Geographiclib (Karney 2015):

GeographicLib web site for downloading library and documentation.

GeodSolve(1), man page for a utility for

geodesic calculations.

An online version of GeodSolve.

Planimeter(1), man page for a utility for calculating the area of geodesic polygons.

An online version of Planimeter.

geod(1), man page for the PROJ.4 utility for

geodesic calculations.

Javascript utility for direct and inverse problems and area calculations.

Drawing geodesics on Google Maps.

Matlab implementation of the geodesic routines (used for the gures for geodesics on ellipsoids of revolution in this article).

The rst description of the geodesic algorithms from (Karney 2009).

Geodesics on a triaxial ellipsoid:

Additional notes about Jacobis solution.

Caustics on an ellipsoid.

27

8.1

Text

Geodesics on an ellipsoid Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geodesics_on_an_ellipsoid?oldid=680091074 Contributors: TakuyaMurata, Michael Devore, Bgwhite, Arthur Rubin, NeilN, Colonies Chris, Huon, Lambiam, Euhedral, David Eppstein, Billinghurst, Ck,

JuanFox, Jdaloner, DEMcAdams, Fgnievinski, Yobot, Citation bot, Trappist the monk, JanetteDoe, MelioraCogito, Groupuscule, Dexbot,

FireySixtySeven, Crapscourge, Lovehumorsex and Anonymous: 5

8.2

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Paris 2me

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