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?

constructing a topographic map
By the time the student has worked through this module he or she should be able to:

  • 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?

depression illustration
Topographic maps and topographic profiles are a concept that students may never have thought about before and may not encounter again, in any other classes. These topics are relatively unique to the geosciences (and hiking and mountain climbing). For the most part, we have covered the basics of how to take a line on a topographic map and convert it to a topographic profile. We have only used simple examples and do not cover specific examples of depression contours or overhangs. Students will get basic training in how to construct a profile and what it represents - you, as the instructor can build on that with more specific examples. The instructor resources have some examples that touch on depression contours and may be helpful if you need your students to complete exercises that include more advanced topographic map/profile making.

Instructor resources

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