Contour Basics: JAVA Mac/PC
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
- start fairly easy and grow in difficulty
- introduce students to basic techniques for generating contours
- introduce students to the subtlties of generating contour plots with sparse data
- provide many opportunities from students to assess their own progress and understanding.
- are completely on-line and have on-line drawing capabilities. Hint: like with a pencil, you can make several short little lines as to where a particular contour should pass and then connect them with a smooth line.
- Learn how to draw contour lines from limited data.
- Extend this knowledge to real data sets.
- Terms: isopleth, gradient, interpretation of the data,
Context for Use
Teaching Notes and Tips
Warning: This is a great activity and seems to work on both Mac and PC. However older browsers may crash when trying to access the lessons.
Since the answers to all activities are included, an instructor might want to use a final assessment of how well students actually learned the material. Here is an map with temperature, dew point, and pressure data that may be printed out and given to students as a final assignment. Final Assessment with answer sheet (Acrobat (PDF) PRIVATE FILE 1.3MB Apr10 03)
Other maps from different geoscience disciplines that may be more appropriate for your students can also be used here.
References and Resources
- Creating contour lines and maps tutorial (more info)
- Contour Map tutorial with links to topographic maps ( This site may be offline. )
- Fun look at elevation contours (more info)
- Great source of on-line contour plots of US temp, dew point, sea level pressure (more info)
- Great source of data and images related to climate change
- Free software that can be used for all sorts of things including contour plots (more info) This software is quite sophisticated (like Matlab) but has good documentation. It takes about 30 minutes to install and about 1 hour to figure out how to use it for making a contour plots. To save you time direct instructions for doing this are contained within the 2 page PDF document How to use Scilab to generate line, contour, and 3-D plots of you own data (Acrobat (PDF) PRIVATE FILE bytes Apr10 03) This program may be too advanced for introductory classes but may be useful in helping instructors generate there own plots at low cost. The 3-D plotting discussed in the above PDF file allows one to visualize plots from different angles AND it's free.