Bands of the Earth: Beginner's Guide to Understanding Topographic Maps

Topographic maps are different from other types of maps in that they illustrate the various elevations of landforms. Someone looking at a simple roadmap learns about the locations, names, and distances of the roads in a particular area. Alternatively, a person looking at a topographical map learns about the actual landscape. For instance, a topographical map of California gives a viewer a look at the various types of terrain there. Mountains, lakes, valleys, streams, slopes, and cliffs are just some of the landforms found on a topographic map. Topographic maps use contour lines to illustrate the elevations of landforms. The points along a single contour line are all equal in elevation. Contour lines allow a map viewer a look at the lay of the land. The appearance of a topographical map as well as its symbols conveys a great deal of information that other maps leave out.

The features of a topographical map allow viewers the opportunity to look at landforms from above. Also, a topographical map gives viewers the chance to compare the elevations of the landforms pictured on the page. Learning how to read a topographical map has a lot to do with interpreting contour lines. For instance, the contour interval, or the amount of distance between contour lines, is of great significance on a topographical map. Generally, contour lines that are positioned close together indicate an area with steep elevation. Alternatively, contour lines that are spaced further apart illustrate a more gently rolling landscape. Contour lines that form a circle mean that there is a hill located there. An index number is noted on every few contour lines to give the viewer an idea of an area's elevation. The scale of a topographic map is usually found in one of its corners. By studying this scale, a person will have a better idea of the elevations indicated by the index numbers.

A topographic map will often have several revision dates printed on it. When a landform erodes or grows its elevation changes. For example, an area of ground that experiences a landslide will need its elevation to be recalculated. Because certain landforms are ever changing, a topographic map should be updated to convey the most accurate information possible. There are many forms of topographical maps. They can be simple or elaborate. Some topographic maps are colorful with lots of details while others serve their purpose with just a few simple sketched lines. The appearance of a topographical map depends upon the area being mapped as well as the nature of the terrain. The legend of a topographical map may contain a lot of different symbols for various items on the map including mountains, depressions, valleys, lakes, roads, and more. Furthermore, a topographical map legend may include a variety of colors that represent different landforms. Green may represent areas of forest while the color blue stands in for bodies of water. Black lines may indicate roads in the area. Along with colors, topographical maps often have the names of larger landforms or structures noted on them. For example, a topographical map may have a long river or a large town labeled for viewers. Regardless of its appearance, the purpose of a topographical map is to help people learn more about an area's landscape. When scouting or metal detecting, these maps can also help you choose the areas to explore – maybe you’d even find some precious metal, jewelry, or a tungsten ring in your hunt.

Finally, topographical maps are important and used for a number of reasons. For example, a person on vacation may use a topographical map of an area to plan a nature hike. The elevations displayed on a topographical map would enable the person to decide the most suitable path to take for the day. If the person wants to avoid a lot of steep hills, looking at a topographical map would help him or her to avoid unpleasant surprises. Alternatively, this sort of map would be of help to a builder as he or she evaluates a particular area of land. After all, the features of a piece of land make it a favorable or unfavorable place to build. Also, a person may look at a topographical map of the United States or perhaps a topographical map of Salt Lake City to learn about the locations of landforms. Scientists use topographical maps to identify changes in landscape due to natural occurrences. In addition, an individual conducting a study on the natural history of a piece of land would benefit from looking at several revised topographical maps. Topographical maps can also show the growth of cities and towns or the construction of more roads. In essence, learning about topographical maps gives people a new tool for studying the details of an area of land.