New coordinates - Key information in a nutshell

The basis of the current national coordinates was created more than 100 years ago. This reference frame (LV03) can no longer meet modern-day requirements. The new coordinates are based reference frame LV95 (national survey 1995). The point of origin in Bern is to be retained, but now has new coordinates. The notations of these coordinates values with E = 2,600,000 m (east) and N = 1,200,000 m (north) are new. The new national survey has no influence on the map content; however, new coordinate values are labelled in the margins of the map. The new reference frame will be introduced in all cantons by the end of 2016.

Most of us are familiar with coordinates from our school days: they are used to pinpoint the position of objects in the terrain, on maps and on plans. Thanks to unequivocal coordinates, we can let other people know where we are, or we can find a particular destination – for example when hiking or in geocaching (electronic paper chase).

The coordinates used in Switzerland are already more than 100 years old. They were determined in the scope of the 1903 national survey and have been in use ever since. At that time, the accuracy of distance measurements was considerably lower than today, which is the reason why these coordinates show inaccuracies of 2 to 3 metres between Geneva and the Engadine Valley. Thanks to the Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellite-assisted surveying, the national survey has now been improved. Using GPS techniques, the Federal Office of Topography swisstopo surveyed Switzerland to an accuracy within the centimetre range in the 1990s – this survey is called the 1995 national survey (LV95).

New notations for coordinates

The new coordinates will primarily benefit the surveying and construction sectors. The most immediately apparent difference is the introduction of new values and notations of the coordinates. While retaining the advantages of the current coordinates system, the values of the new system will be shifted with respect to the point of origin (in Bern) of the old system by values of 2 and 1 million respectively: 

Old:   y = 600,000 m (east);     x = 200,000 m (north)

New: E = 2,600,000 m (east); N = 1,200,000 m (north)

The old coordinates LV03 have six digits, whereas the new coordinates LV95 have seven digits (to the metre). In addition, the coordinate axes are clearly defined as E for east and N for north.

What changes for map users?

The change in coordinates alters very little in swisstopo’s national maps and interactive map products. The shift in the coordinates grid is negligible because the maximum 3-metre deviation only makes a difference of 0.12 millimetre on the 1: 25 000 scale national map. Only the coordinate values change. There will now be seven-­digit figures instead of six-digit. For identification pur­poses, and in order to differentiate it from the older system, the false easting and false northing values have been changed: in the eastern direction (E) 2 000 000 m were added to the coordinates, and in northern direction (N) 1 000 000 m were added. Every point in Switzerland can be accurately specified with two seven-­digit numbers. In the National Geodetic Reference System (CH1903+), the starting point of the Swiss map projection in Bern has values E = 2 600 000 m and N = 1 200 000 m. The first number indicates the location on an east-­west axis and the second number shows it on a south­-north axis. During a transitional phase, some swisstopo products, depending on the publication date, will still use the old coordinates, while some will already have converted to the new ones. For measurements that are accurate within the metre range or better, the differences between the old and the new coordinates must be taken into consideration. 

Why these changes?

The implementation of the new coordinates is important because it allows the optimal use of the satellite-assisted surveying techniques such as GPS. The new notations avoid confusion between the old and the new coordinates systems. Furthermore, the new national survey is compatible with those of our neighbouring countries, which are also carrying out similar adjustments. Imagine what would happen if data from modern GPS surveys were to be combined with older, more inaccurate data, for example in the construction of tunnels or bridges. And because Switzerland is not an island, our data have to be compatible with those of our neighbours, especially for international projects such as the European motorway and railway networks.

The new coordinates will be introduced and implemented canton by canton.


Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
Tel.
+41 58 469 01 11

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Relevant authority

Geodesy and Federal Directorate of Cadastral Surveying
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Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern

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