Measurement Obscurities

These things are probably different than you think...

Altitude and Elevation (and Height)

These two words are often used interchangeably, and there's actually a good reason for it. However, they should be different.

Altitude - measured height from mean sea level Elevation - measured height from mean sea level Height - measured distance from ground at any elevation

Specifically, if you were at an elevation of 1000m, and you throw a ball 5 metres in the air, the ball is at a height of 5 metres, and an altitude of 1005m. If you throw that ball off of a 200m cliff, it is at a height of 205m, over ground that is 800m elevation, but the same altitude.

The reason everything gets messy, and why these two words have officially become synonimous, is that "Altitude" as it relates to aviation is measured height above mean sea level (AMSL) at all times. This hadsto do with measured barometric pressure, etc., but one can land a plane at 400m altitude as long as the runway is at 400m elevation, because the height is zero.

Interval and Duration

The definition of these words is often used interchangably, but they are considered different for specific reasons. An interval is casually recognised as the "time between things". That's actually the duration. Duration is how long any activity lasts. Why does this matter? Think of it this way... the duration of a full moon is only a few days, but the interval is 29 days.


What might be seen as interchangeable here definitely is not. Coordinated Universal Time is a measurement that never varies. UTC is always UTC. There is no Daylight Saving or British Summertime.

GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time, is a time zone. London sits within this time zone. It is a poorly named time zone because at one time in history, GMT was the time which everything was based simply because of where it existed.

Today, interchanging these two can be disaster when trying to describe time. UTC is a measured time, and GMT is a time zone.

Bonus fact about time:

Did you know that the earth rotates exactly 365.999 times per year? It's a scientific fact. So why do we have 365 days and a leap-year day every quadrennial? The answer is that each day the earth rotates aproximately 361ยบ, as it's a rotation that comes back where the same point on earth is pointing to the sun. That means you get a little more than one rotation since earth has gone on about 0.003 of its annual trip around the sun. It's also the basic reason that stars shift about 4 minutes per day as to when you can see them in the same place.

If you wanted to see an exact rotation as it relates to distant objects, it's called a "sidereal day" instead of what we use as a "solar day". Learn more by looking up "sidereal" and "UT1 vs UTC".