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?

  • 2
    Also atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude. Well, better to say, Also atmospheric pressure decreases as altitude increases.
    – GEdgar
    Mar 15, 2013 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, 2013 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, 2014 at 9:30
  • 1
    All I know is where I live the altitude makes it hard to breathe because my town has a higher elevation
    – user84980
    Jul 14, 2014 at 3:32

2 Answers 2


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.

  • Temperature profiles are also measured with weather balloons and satellites, including temperatures nowhere near the ground.
    – gerrit
    Feb 18, 2016 at 16:57
  • @gerrit Perhaps this answer would have better as "You are measuring temperature with..." But this answer is specific to the question. Oct 1, 2016 at 12:09

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.

  • 1
    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. Jun 15, 2014 at 12:15
  • 2
    In the airline industry elevation = height above ground and altitude = height above sea level. Altitude is used to calculate air pressure, elevation is used to make sure you don't crash into mountains. May 4, 2015 at 18:08

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