Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

There is a question already dealing with the difference between elevation and altitude: Which to use: "altitude" or "elevation" in regards to height above sea level?

The difference between the terms is clear, from the first answer I quote:

"Altitude is typically only used to describe the height of an aircraft in flight. It is a barometric measurement expressed relative to the height of a runway or mean sea level in a given location or region (taking into account current local atmospheric conditions), or to an arbitrary standard datum (to eliminate the effect of localised variations in air pressure).

Elevation is usually used to describe the height of the ground, or a feature fixed to the ground. It is a geometric measurement expressed relative to the mean sea level datum established for the region by the national mapping agency."

So a church somewhere in the landscape has a certain elevation and when I fly with my balloon to New Mexico I would use the term altitude. Also atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude.

The situation however, is less clear cut when I talk about the weather up in the mountains. Should I say "it is -12 °C at 2000 meters of elevation" or should I rather use the term altitude here? Temperature is measured by a weather station with a sensor positioned on a post above the ground level. I tend to think that I should refer to temperature as being related to elevation as here, the atmosphere is so close to the land surface. But what is correct?

share|improve this question
1  
Also atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude. Well, better to say, Also atmospheric pressure decreases as altitude increases. –  GEdgar Mar 15 '13 at 19:49
    
Why do you need to choose? Just say, "It is -12 °C at 2000 meters above sea level." or "It is -12 °C at 2000m MSL" –  Jim Mar 16 '13 at 4:50
    
Another situation where the two are often confused is the "height" of a celestial object above the horizon, i.e. the angle between the object and the horizon. This is its altitude, not elevation. I must also say that I find the definition using pressure somewhat confusing, as the pressure should decrease when I fly off and gain altitude in the same way as when I start climbing a mountain and gain elevation. –  AstroFloyd Jun 9 at 9:30
    
All I know is where I live the altitude makes it hard to breathe because my town has a higher elevation –  Chefy Jul 14 at 3:32

2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Temperature is measured with a sensor on a pole, perhaps two metres above the ground, which is not a particularly significant amount at 2000m above sea level. You could just as well call the height of the sensor 2000m above sea level, treating the height of the ground and the sensor fixed to the ground as more-or-less coincident.

Elevation is usually used to describe the height of the ground, or a feature fixed to the ground.

Use elevation.

share|improve this answer

The use of barometric pressure is ambiguous, since it falls with increasing altitude and elevation. An unambiguous definition would be more technical:

Altitude: vertical distance between an object and the local surface of the Earth.

Elevation: vertical distance between the local surface of the Earth and global sea level.

The local surface of the Earth will be either land or water surface.

share|improve this answer
    
No, altitude and elevation are nearly synonyms in this regard. They are both generally used for height above sea level, and they both can be used for height above the local surface. –  Peter Shor Jun 15 at 12:15

protected by tchrist Jul 14 at 6:37

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.