print preview

Coordinates

How do you inform people about your location? As a rule you give them an address or describe your surroundings. With the aid of coordinates, however, you can accurately indicate the position of a given location within a few centimetres. This page explains what coordinates are and how they are calculated.

Coordinates can be used for indicating the exact position of a location on the ground
Coordinates can be used for indicating the exact position of a location on the ground

Coordinates are used for describing the exact position of a location on the ground, or on a map or plan. They normally take the form of figures that indicate the distance of the location concerned from the two coordinate axes. Coordinate axes are placed perpendicular to one another and run from south to north or from west to east. The point at which these axes intercept is referred to as the point of origin or «zero» point.

Switzerland’s official coordinates indicate positions to the north and east in relation to the zero point in Bern
Switzerland’s official coordinates indicate positions to the north and east in relation to the zero point in Bern

We can see coordinates on the national maps, for example, and on map apps on our smartphone. Coordinates are also used in the background in navigation devices so that we can find our destination.

If a location is to be described three-dimensionally, a third coordinate is required that indicates the height. Coordinates can also be indicated in the form of a combination of figures and letters, for example on a chess board, on a site or city map or in a spreadsheet.

As a rule, it is the official Swiss coordinates from the 1995 national survey (LV95) that are used in Switzerland. Other systems are in use throughout the world, for example the World Geodetic System (WGS84) with indications of longitude and latitude, which is a global reference system for geodetics and navigation.

How are coordinates calculated?

The calculation of coordinates requires:

  • a coordinates system with a zero point and coordinate axes, and
  • a method by means of which the spherical earth can be optimally depicted on a flat map (referred to as map projection).

Once the coordinates have been defined, they can be put into practical application: on the ground they are marked in the form of control points. For each control point a measurement is made to calculate how far it is from the defined zero point or from the two coordinate axes. These two figures form the coordinates of this control point.

Reference system as basis for coordinates

The reference system forms the theoretical basis for calculating coordinates. For this purpose the measurement units, zero point and position of the coordinates system have to be defined. In the...

The Swiss coordinates system

Switzerland’s official coordinates are based on reference frame LV95 (the 1995 national survey), with the point of origin (or zero point) located in Bern. The coordinates of this point are E =...

Reference frame: making the reference system comprehensible

With the aid of the reference frame the coordinates reference system can be connected to the real world. The reference frame encompasses hundreds of points that are marked on the ground, measured and...


Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
Tel.
+41 58 469 01 11

E-mail


Relevant authority

Geodesy and Federal Directorate of Cadastral Surveying
E-mail

Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern

Map

Show map