How Do You Use Relative and Absolute Location Maps?

Absolute location defines a fixed place on the map by its latitude and longitude; relative location describes a location relative to other points on the map. Latitude and longitude coordinates can locate any point on the globe. Relative location is less precise and may be expressed as distance between two places, travel time, or geographic association relative to surrounding locations.

A location's latitude and longitude are called its coordinates. Coordinates represent the intersection of latitude, a grid of horizontal lines encircling the Earth to define north-south position, and longitude, a grid of vertical lines expressing east-west locations around the globe. There are 180 degrees of latitude per direction. North-south latitudes start at the equator at zero degrees; east-west longitudes are bisected by the international date line. Coordinates state latitude first, followed by longitude.

For example, the latitude of Chicago is 41.8369 degrees north, or about 41.84 degrees north of the equator, and its longitude is 87.6847 degrees west, or about 87.68 degrees west of the international date line. Therefore, Chicago's absolute location is 41.8369 degrees north, 87.6847 degrees west on the map. A street address in Chicago pinpoints absolute locations within the city. Online map systems often give geographic coordinates for street addresses.

Relative location expresses the location of a fixed point relative to another fixed point on the map; for example, Chicago is 297 miles from St. Louis. Relative location may also be defined by geographical area; for instance, Illinois is contiguous to Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin. Relative location can also express the relation between several points. For example, St. Louis is close to Chicago relative to its distance from Denver or Honolulu.