Guiding students through topographic profiles
An instructors guide to transferring and connecting points with a smooth curve
What should the student get out of this module?
- transfer elevations from a topographic map to a topographic profile (with optional review of plotting points)
- connect elevations on a profile plot with a smooth curve, interpolating where land surface goes up and where it goes down
- explain what the topographic profile shows - the visualization of a slice of the landscape
- begin to visualize the landscape on topographic maps
Why is it hard for students?
Many students struggle with this concept because they have difficulty translating the two-dimensional aspect of a topographic map to the three-dimensional space that it represents. For some students, the visualization required takes hours and hours of practice and many students only learn it when they go into the field with a topographic map and try to navigate. Others have little problem visualizing the landscape. Topographic profiles are a good way to get students to start thinking about and being able to visualize what landscapes on a topographic map look like.
What have we left out of this page?
- Exploring Earth has an entire chapter on Earth's Varied Topography with some excellent visualizations and activities for students to complete.
- This YouTube video shows an example of constructing a topographic profile.
- The USGS has a Map Locator where you can download topographic maps for free.
- San Francisco State has an activity for constructing a topographic profile