An Overview of Absolute Location

Mapping coordinates on a map
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Absolute location refers to a specific, fixed point on the earth's surface expressed by a coordinate system such as latitude and longitude, which is more specific than relative location and can include the use of specific addresses like 100 North First Street.

Geographically speaking, latitude represents points from north to south on the earth's surface, ranging from 0 degrees at the equator to (-)90 degrees at the South and North Poles, while longitude represents points from east to west on the earth's surface  with 360 degrees represented depending on where on the globe the point lies.

Absolute location is important for geolocation services like Google Maps and Uber because they are used to specifically designate what exists in a given location. Recently, app developers have even called for an added dimension for absolute location, giving height to help specific between different floors of buildings on the same longitude and latitude.

Relative and Absolute Locations

From knowing where exactly to meet up with a friend to locating buried treasure, absolute location is important to know where one is in the world at any given time; however, sometimes a person only needs to use relative location to describe a particular place to another.

Relative location refers to locations based on its proximity to other locations, landmarks, or geographic contexts, such as Philadelphia being located approximately 86 miles southeast of New York City, and can be referred to in terms of distance, travel time or cost.

In terms of providing geographic context, topographical maps, those featuring landmarks or buildings such as the World Trade Center, or overview maps often provide relative location by means of relating one specific place to places by it. On a map of the United States, for instance, one can see that California is relative to its neighbor states of Oregon and Nevada.

Further Examples of Absolute and Relative Locations

To better understand the difference between absolute and relative locations, take a look at the following examples. 

The absolute location of the Capitol building in Washington D.C., the capitol of the United States, is  38° 53′ 35″ N, 77° 00′ 32″ W in terms of latitude and longitude and its address in the U.S. postal system is East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, DC 20004. In relative terms, the U.S. Capitol building is two blocks away from the Supreme Court of the United States.

In another example, the Empire State Building, in absolute location terms, is located at 40.7484° N, 73.9857° W in terms of longitude and latitude at the address 350 5th Ave, New York, NY 10118. In relative terms, it is about a 15-minute walk south of Central Park down 5th Avenue.