How to Use a Map

Page 8

Topographic Symbols

Now that we have discussed the main terrain features used on a map, we will now look at the topographic symbols.


A topographic symbol is a way of depicting, on a map, those features that are not terrain features, but do exist on the ground. Generally, topographic features can be broken down into two categories: Natural and Man-made.


Natural topographic symbols are used to depict natural features, such as rivers, streams, vegetation, lakes, ponds, swamps, marshes, and anything else that nature can cook up that isn't a terrain feature. 


Before we get into an in depth discussion of topographic symbols, let's talk about the basic map colors.


Maps use colors as well as drawings to depict features. We have already discussed contour lines. All contour lines are brown. Other colors used on a map are Blue (for water), Red (for hard surface roads), Green (for vegetation), Black (for man-made structures), and sometimes purple or yellow (for newly built up areas). 


You may find some topo maps that deviate from these uses of color, but a vast majority use this color scheme.


Now, let's look at some topographic symbols.


Blue is used for water...ALL water. So, whether it's an ocean or a pond, the Mississippi River or Miller's Creek, the color is the same. The size of the blue, however, tells a lot about the waterway.


A body of water, such as a lake or pond, is drawn to the correct shape and scale of the actual body of water. The entire body of water is blue. The name of the body of water will either be on the blue or nearby.


lake.JPG (145332 bytes)

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A large river's course is drawn to scale, as is its width, and is entirely in blue. The name of the river will me placed along side the river at regular intervals. If the river is too narrow to depict to scale on the map, then the river is a solid blue line.


river.JPG (175103 bytes)

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Creeks and streams are drawn as single solid blue lines. The course of creeks and streams are drawn accurately. Once again, the names are along side the waterway at regular intervals.


creek.JPG (69225 bytes)

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An intermittent stream is depicted as a dashed line interrupted by three dots. It is also blue in color. The course of the intermittent stream is also accurately depicted.


Intermittent Stream.JPG (77976 bytes)

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If you still have trouble determining which way is downhill, here is a hint. Water always flows downhill. So, waterways drawn on a map are in low ground. Also, the "V" made by two merging waterways points downhill.


V of creek.JPG (106007 bytes)

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Marshy areas are shown as small clumps of blue reeds along with intermittent blue lines. Depending on how much water is present, the marsh symbols may or may not be located in water.


Marsh.jpg (134385 bytes)

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