# Geology 101 Reading Topographic Maps

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1 Geology 101 Name Reading Topographic Maps Topographic maps illustrate the shape of the Earth s surface and help us understand geologic features. The spacing of the lines and the patterns created by the contour lines helps one "see" the landforms through the use of a topographic map. The topographic map below is of the GRCC area and illustrates the steepness of the land through the use of contour lines. Contour lines are lines of equal elevation. An individual contour is the same elevation everywhere along that line. For example, the shoreline of a placid lake is a contour. It is the same elevation all around the lake. In the photo below, the water in the reservoir contains high levels of dissolved salt. The salt is precipitated along the margins of the lake creating a record of the level of the shoreline. If we viewed these salt lines from above, we would see a topographic map of the shoreline of the reservoir. The vertical difference in elevation between the lines is the contour interval. The U.S. Geological Survey uses a variety of contour intervals because the topographic relief (difference in elevation) varies from area to area.

2 From the photo at the bottom of the previous page, 1. If the contour lines are closely spaced, the land must be: (0.5 pt) 2. Conversely, if the contour lines are far apart, the land must be: (0.5 pt) 3. An important rule is that the elevation of every contour line must be evenly divisible by the contour interval. If the contour interval is 20 feet, the contour lines must be multiples of 20, such as 220, 240, and 260. Lines such as 203 or 218 are not acceptable if the contour interval is 20 feet. Could there be a 1125-foot contour if the contour interval is 15 feet? Explain your answer. (0.5 pt) 4. In the view below, we are looking at a profile or cross-sectional view of a valley with a stream in the bottom of the valley. On the left side of the valley, imagine the dots are contour lines with the elevation in feet above sea level. (1 pt) Imagine that you descend from the 300 foot contour down to 260, you cross the stream in the bottom of the valley, what will be the first contour as you walk up the other side of the valley? Complete the other contour elevations on the right side of the valley. What general rule can you make about the contour elevations when you change the direction of the slope? 2

3 5. In the profile of the hill below, assume a contour interval of 20 feet. Start with 240 feet at the lowest elevation and complete the elevations in this profile view: (Does this agree with your rule above?) (0.5 pt) 240 Another important part of a topographic map is the map scale. The scale may be expressed as a 1 ratio, such as 1:24,000 or as a fraction such as. This means that one unit of distance on 24,000 the map equals 24,000 units on the ground. The units you use to determine the distances may be inches, centimeters, or any other dimension as long as you use the same units of measurement for both the map and the ground. The most common scale used by the U.S. Geological Survey is 1: 24,000, however many older maps were drawn at 1:62,500 scale. One can also use a bar scale at the bottom of the map to directly measure map distances. See the table below: The data below and the map scale examples are from USGS Fact Sheet (February 2002): Series 7.5 minute Scale 1 inch represents approximately 1 centimeter represents Standard quadrangle size (latitude by longitude) 1:24,000 2,000 feet (exact) 240 meters 7.5 by 7.5 minute 49 to 70 Quadrangle area (square miles) 15 minute 1:62,500 1 mile 625 meters 15 by 15 minute 197 to 282 3

4 Scale = 1:24,000 Scale= 1:100,000 Scale= 1:250,000 The rectangles on the 1:100,000 and the 1:250,000 maps are the perimeter of the 1:24,000 map on the left. 6. If a specific landform, such as a glacier or cinder cone, is represented on a 1:24,000 scale map and a 1:250,000 scale map, on which map would the landform appear to be larger? (0.5 pt) 7. Which of the Mt. Rainier maps above covers the greatest land area? (0.5 pt) 8. If one mile is about 2 5/8 inches on a map with a scale of 1:24,000, would a mile on a map with a scale of 1:62,500 be about 5 inches or about 1 inch? Explain your thinking. (0.5 pt) 4

5 To draw a topographic map first we need to know the elevations on the ground surface and the contour interval. On the map (next page) notice the elevations of the land and that the contour interval is 100 feet. Given the 100 foot contour interval, the contour lines must be even multiples of 100, such as 400, 500, 600, etc. Let s start with the edge of the map. Notice in the southern part of the map that there is an elevation of 550 and 375. Between the 550 and the 375 there must be a 400 and a 500. We can estimate the approximate location of the 400 and 500 elevations as shown to the left. Between each point of elevation we can estimate the location of the even 100 contours. If we draw a line through only the 400- foot elevations, we will have the 400-foot contour. The line would be an equal elevation line or contour. Do the same for the 500-foot elevations. Notice that the contour lines go only through the points that are multiples of

6 Topographic Map Exercise 1 The map below contains spot elevations for an area. Draw the contour lines for the map and form a topographic map with a contour interval of 100 feet. To help you visualize the topography, the area is the confluence of two valleys. Imagine if a reservoir were formed in this area, the shorelines created by the reservoir on the sides of the hills would be like the contour lines. If you have difficulty, please ask for help! (2.5 pts) Topographic Map Exercise 2: (The map is on the next page) (2.5 pts) 9. The contour interval for this map is 20 feet. The dash, dot line is an intermittent stream. When streams converge, normally they point downstream. Put arrows on the streams showing the direction of flow. (Normally streams do not stop, so the flow must be in the opposite direction.) The contours around the X are called hatchers and they indicate that there is a close basin, such as a sinkhole or crater. From the 288-foot elevation mark, enter the elevations of the contour lines in the boxes 10. (0.5 pt) The elevation X must be less then, but greater than. Notice the line marked A-B on the map. Draw an approximate profile (side view) from A to B what does the land look like going from A to B. (0.5 pt) 6

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