Topographic Map – Definition, Structure, and Examples

What is a Topographic Map?

Whenever you search about something, let's say about the forest or any mountain on the search engines, you will also find some related maps there. These maps will show the location and will also explain the detailed features of that forest or mountain region. You'll be able to find accurate information such as the height of the mountains, various routes around there, the boundary of the forest and any particular species found there, etc. These maps fulfill all your requirements. These detailed maps of the geographic features are known as topographic maps. Here, in this article, we will be talking about these maps only. We will learn what is a topographic map or whole topographic map definition structure examples and other related concepts which will help you to understand this topic. Understanding this topic is very necessary because it helps in actual life for various purposes. 

Just like we study about natural habitat and clouds and other scientific things, in the similar manner we study about the surface of the land. It can contain various things such a s mountains, valleys, rivers and other things that exist on this very planet on land. Now this whole study has detailed characteristics and almost nine out of ten topographic maps show contour lines which can be called as lines of equal elevation. Now if we deeply go to understand topographic maps it can be defined as a two-dimensional representation of a portion of any three-dimensional surface on earth or of the earth. Topography can be in the shape of the land surface and the map that we usually see to understand the given area represents the land surface so basically the topographic map explains or represents the land surface. These can be called as tools used in geologic studies because they help us to configure the earth surface and read them and their characteristics properly. Just like we have sociologist, biologists to study and understand their respective subjects we have cartographers who solve the problem of representing the 3-D land surface by copying it on a flat piece of paper through the usage of contour lines which also has horizontal distances and vertical elevations which can be measured from a topographic map.

Before we go into details about a topographic map we need to understand the basic terms or the general information regarding the maps. There are various things such as map scale, vertical scale, and contour lines which will further help us understand the whole structure around topography and topographic maps.

Now maps come in a variety of skills so when we talk about map scale it can cover areas ranging from the entire earth to a Block of city or maybe less.

Maps are different but all maps do have a horizontal scale but along with the horizontal scale topographic maps also have a vertical scale to allow the determination of a point in three-dimensional space.

Contour lines pose a very important term when defining topographic maps contour lines are basically used to determine elevations and can be evaluated as lines on a map that are produced from connecting points of equal elevation. These lines are marked with their elevations and a general target so that it can represent its characteristic features evidently. In contrast lighter contour lines do not have such elevations but they can be determined by counting up or down from the nearest index contour line and by multiplying the contour interval. Contour lines can be traced in any topographic map located below the scale and so does the contour interval.

Now we already know that topographic maps represent a view of the landscape as we see it from above, so in order to perform or produce a detailed study of the landscape it is very important to construct a topographic profile or a cross-sectional design through a particular interval. A topographic profile can be defined as a cross-sectional view of a long line drawn through a portion of a topographic map. A profile may be constructed quickly and accurately across any given state line but in order to do so we need to follow a procedure.

Stream Gradient: The gradient of a stream or river is determined by measuring a section of a stream or river and dividing the distance (in miles) into the vertical difference (in feet) between the two points.

 

Topographic Map - Introduction

What is the meaning of topography? Basically, it is a study of all the geographical features that present on the surface of the Earth. These can be natural or artificial features of a particular place. Usually, these features are displayed through maps. When these features are given a graphical representation and explained through maps, they are simply called topographic maps.

 

Topographic Map Meaning

These are those maps that provide detailed, comprehensive, and accurate information of the graphical representation of any natural or artificial geographical feature that occurs on the surface of the Earth. 

Contour lines are used in topographic maps for providing detailed information. These are the lines that are made by connecting the same points of equal elevation. Not all contour lines are displayed in topographic maps but samples of them are used. These kinds of maps are generally created by the government agencies for the administration of the country.

 

Topographic Map Definition

  • As per Oxford reference, "Topographic Map is a map which indicates, to scale, the natural features of the Earth's surface, as well as human features, with features at the correct relationship to each other."

  • According to the dictionary, "Topographic Map is a map showing topographic features, usually using contour lines."


Vegetation, Elevation and Glaciers

The variation of the leaves or contours of a reason are often shown as brown lines that connect points of equal elevation on a map. With these lines we can easily measure and show mountain heights, steep slopes and ocean depths in a flat map. Topographic maps and the studies conducted may also include vegetation such as forests at each level of a mountain. Different forests such as large and sparse vegetation can be represented by dark shades of green and light green accordingly. Similarly larger and deeper bodies of water are outlined in darker shades of blue and the lighter shades of blue indicate smaller lakes and ponds. For glaciers and snow fields which are snow covered almost all year round can be outlined in white called as wide areas along the same contour lines.


Uses of Topographic Map 

It can have several uses which are mentioned below:

  • These maps can be used for any kind of geographic planning or architecture purposes.

  • It can be used in matters of Earth Science and Geography.

  • It can be used in mining and other such purposes like the construction of ponds etc.

  • It can be used for recreational purposes as well. For example, hiking or mountaineering, etc.

  • It can be used to get any detailed description of any area or any geographical feature. For example, drainage, landforms, forests, communication or transportation routes, etc. 

  • It can be used to get detailed information on any man-made features as well.

  • It can be used in civil engineering as well.

  • It can be used by the government for planning or administrative purposes or can be used by the private Industrial players as well.

 

Structure

These maps have a very comprehensive and detailed structure of any feature that occurs on the surface of the Earth and this structure provides all the information about that particular feature with the help of contour lines and graphical representation. This structure can include the following aspects in the maps:

Categories

Features

Relief

Regions of mountains, valleys, slopes, depressions as defined by contours

Hydrography

Water bodies such as lakes, rivers, streams, swamps, rapids, falls

Vegetation

Forest, wooded areas

Transportation

Roads, trails, railways, bridges, 

airports/airfield, seaplane anchorages

Culture

Buildings, urban development, Power, 

the transmission line, pipelines, towers

Boundaries

International, provincial/territorial, 

administrative, recreational, geographical

Toponymy

Names of places, water feature names, 

landform names, boundary names

 

Topographic Map Example

These maps can be of any country or any specific region or any topographic feature. Maps based on specific themes are called thematic maps. Some examples of topo maps of different countries and others are given below:

Topographic Map - Germany

 

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Topographic Map - Russia

 

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Topographic Map - Spain

 

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Topographic Map - India

 

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Topographic Map - Highways ( India )( Thematic Map )

 

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Topographic Map - Forest ( Thematic map )

 

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Did You Know?

If you know how to use a compass and a topographic map of any place which is unknown to you, you can be a good explorer even without a GPS. 

 

Conclusion

Thus, we know that maps play an important role because they can represent such a large-scale thing into a very small scale of paper. They help us to organize information about any region or place of any feature. Topographic maps will enlighten you about different features and their elevation levels. Here, in this article, we have covered topo maps. We have learned about topography definition geography, topographic map definition structure examples and other related concepts in this article. This will help you to understand the importance of topo maps and will also help in studying Geography and Earth Science. 

FAQs on Topographic Map – Definition, Structure, and Examples

1. Define Topographic Map. Why are They used and What do Contour Lines mean in these Maps?

Topography means a study of all the geographical features that present on the surface of the Earth and the representation of these features on the maps are called topographic maps. These are those maps that provide detailed, comprehensive, and accurate information of the graphical representation of any natural or artificial geographical feature and can be used for geographical planning or administration, in geography or civil engineering, for recreation purposes, etc. Contour lines are used in topographic maps for providing detailed information. These are the lines that are made by connecting the same points of equal elevation either above or below sea level.

2. What are the basic Features of Topographic Maps and their Uses?

These maps use contour lines to show points of equal heights through a graphical representation of various geographical features. These can be representations of any natural or artificial features of that place. These maps can be used for any kind of geographic planning or architecture purposes, in matters of Earth Science, Geography, or Civil Engineering. It can be used in mining and other such purposes like the construction of ponds and recreational purposes as well. For example, hiking or mountaineering, etc.


It can be used to get any detailed description of any area or any geographical feature such as drainage, landforms, forests, communication or transportation routes, etc. On the other hand, It can be used to get detailed information about any man-made features as well. It can be used by the government for planning or administrative purposes or can be used by other private Industrial players as well.

3. What is a stream gradient ?

In simple words it can be defined as a vertical drop of the stream over a horizontal line and in a more complex manner it can be understood to be the slope of the stream’s channel or rise over run. In order to find the gradient we need to see the vertical difference divided by the given horizontal distance. So if we know two points for eg. “a” and “b” , by connecting it and knowing the difference in elevation between A and B we can calculate the average gradient along the given stream.

4. What is a Karst Topography?

This can be described as a distinct landscape which is made when underlying rocks either dissolve or change their shape. This can lead into the formation of caves, fishes, underground wells, jagged hills, river beds and other types of terrain. When we notice such a topography it normally indicates that water is close to soluble bedrock which might include dolomite, gypsum and rock salt. This kind of topography is found throughout the world but it's particularly important mapping site includes locations such as mammoth cave and the fisher ridge cave system in Kentucky and the Friars whole system in West Virginia.

5. What is a Mountain Topography?

This includes topographical regions such as hills and mountains. on two lines along these landforms where mountains and hills are located also represent their features such as height, slope steepness, slope configuration et cetera. As we see on a topographic map, hills and mountains are typically march from the Ridgetop to the valley bottom with lighter colours which indicate higher altitudes and alongside are presented the numbers that show height in relation to sea level, these characteristics differ as we compare mountains from hills because mountains show greater height and area.

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