Topographic Maps from the US Geological Survey
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Other skills goals for this activity
Description of the activity/assignment
Programs such as Google EarthTM and NASA World Wind provide satellite images of any point on the planet. These and other tools allow us to build models of the landscape, draw topographic profiles, measure straight-line distances and the length of winding streams, and estimate slope steepness. Why are geologists interested in maps? We use them as the fundamental tool for communicating information about the distribution of rock units and landforms. If you ever go to a national park, you will find topographic and geologic maps of the park area at the visitor center. In fact, you can even download an electronic version of the map showing your neighborhood from the US Geological Survey website.
Student materials for this exercise include the instruction sheet and a .zip file containing the topographic map (PDF and JPG versions of the full map plus a PDF for the topographic profile). The exercise is divided into three parts.
Part I introduces the concept of a topographic map and the basic information relevant to reading a map. Students determine elevations of points on and off contour lines, including spot elevations, and calculate relief and slope.
In Part II, students construct a topographic profile by hand and use it to interpret the landscape along the profile line.
Part III involves calculating the fractional horizontal and vertical scales of various profiles and using them to compute vertical exaggeration of examples and of the profile from Part II.
Determining whether students have met the goals
Download teaching materials and tips
- Activity Description/Assignment: Student Instructions for Topographic Maps Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 2MB Jun16 19)
- Instructors Notes: Lecture Slides for Topographic Maps Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB Jun16 19)
- Map files for Topographic Maps Activity (Zip Archive 33.5MB Jun16 19)
TopoView, 2018, U.S. Geological Survey: Online resource – Accessed 16 June 2019
McIntosh-Tolle, L., 2018, How to read a topo map: REI Coop: Online resource – Accessed 16 June 2019