Geographers use the term "area" to refer to any particular portion of the Earth’s surface


9 - 12


Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Human Geography, Physical Geography

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...

Geographers use the term "area" to refer to any particular portion of Earth's surface. It may be as small as a park or a neighborhood, or as large as a continent or an ocean. Metropolitan areas, for example, help define the borders of large population centers for a census and other official purposes. The metropolitan area of Tokyo, Japan, contains many cities and over 35 million people.

Area is also an exact measure of the size of a surface with specific boundaries. For example, the U.S. state of California has a land area of 403,932 square kilometers (155,959 square miles).

For maps, it's important to represent area accurately so the sizes of different regions can be compared properly. The surface of a sphere such as Earth can never be perfectly reproduced on a flat map. As a result, mapmakers, or cartographers, use different types of distortions, or projections, depending on which features they want to show most accurately. A Mercator projection distorts area but preserves accurate directions; the Mollweide projection shows area accurately but tends to distort directions and shapes.

Fast Fact

Small and Tall
The smallest unit of area is Planck area, expressed as a decimal point followed by 70 zeroes, then 261. The largest unit of area is the yottameter, expressed as a 1 followed by 24 zeroes.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Hilary Costa
Erin Sprout
Santani Teng
Melissa McDaniel
Jeff Hunt
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Kim Rutledge
Hilary Hall
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society
Tim Gunther
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
Educator Reviewer
Nancy Wynne
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources