In geodesy and navigation, a meridian arc is the curve between two points on the Earth's surface having the same longitude. The term may refer either to a segment of the meridian, or to its length.
The purpose of measuring meridian arcs is to determine a figure of the Earth. One or more measurements of meridian arcs can be used to infer the shape of the reference ellipsoid that best approximates the geoid in the region of the measurements. Measurements of meridian arcs at several latitudes along many meridians around the world can be combined in order to approximate a geocentric ellipsoid intended to fit the entire world.
The earliest determinations of the size of a spherical Earth required a single arc. Accurate survey work beginning in the 19th century required several arc measurements in the region the survey was to be conducted, leading to a proliferation of reference ellipsoids around the world. The latest determinations use astro-geodetic measurements and the methods of satellite geodesy to determine reference ellipsoids, especially the geocentric ellipsoids now used for global coordinate systems such as WGS 84 (see numerical expressions).