I have a shapefile that had its geographic coordinate system defined as the projection NAD 83 UTM Zone 18. The scale of the layer was correct but it was at the wrong point in space. I redefined the layer's coordinate system as GCS_North_American_1983 using Define Projection tool. When I did this, the layer's extent values stayed in meters but the units changed to decimal degrees, resulting in the scale to change to 1:167,078,124,575 in order to bring the layer into view.

Data Type:  Shapefile Feature Class 
Shapefile:  F:\ADKCouncil\RawData\Natural\Hydrography\NoSource\ADKlakes.shp
Geometry Type:  Polygon
Coordinates have Z values:  No 
Coordinates have measures:  No 

Geographic Coordinate System:   GCS_North_American_1983
Datum:  D_North_American_1983
Prime Meridian:     Greenwich
Angular Unit:   Degree

The layer has the correct values for the projected coordinate system in meters however it is in the geographic coordinate system using decimal degrees.

Top: 4969303.000856 dd
Left: 474011.435231 dd
Right: 4766549.500856 dd
Bottom: 637414.935231 dd

I tried to project the layer into NAD 83 UTM Zone 18 using the Project tool however an error results:

invalid extent for output coordinate system

  • Resulting error <invalid extent for output coordinate system> Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 23:44
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    – Vince
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 0:54
  • Can you post the general extent of the data? Does it cover the Caribbean up to Canada? And the right extent is much too big for a UTM zone. Before you can use the Project Tool on it, as Vince suggests, you need to figure out what the correct coordinate system is.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


You seem to have made the common error of defining a projection to be an incorrect value when you should have defined it to what it was, and projected it to the one you wanted.

Since projection files are just text in a specific format, you can repair your error by deleting ADKlakes.prj and using Define Projection to establish the correct projection, then using Project to deproject the UTM shapefile into GCS_NAD_1983.

Of particular interest is this Esri Tech Support blog

  • Yes, except OP isn't at this point yet. Even with the original "correct" coordinate system, OP reports that the data isn't located correctly. Thus, it's a bad-coordinate-system problem not redefined-the-coordinate-system.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 16:46
  • It was a bad-coordinate-system problem, but became a redefined-the-coordinate-system issue. Agreed that the bad PCS needs to be replaced with the correct PCS. The challenge will be identifying the correct PCS.
    – Vince
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 18:45
  • Thanks for your input. I will try to track down the metadata for the layer in order I use the correct PCS Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 21:07

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