What Is Topography?

August 17, 2017 2 min read

What Is Topography?

Topography is the study of the shape of Earth's surface and its physical characteristics, such as mountains, valleys, canyons, and other The primary goal of typography is to find out the latitude (the distance north or south of the equator) and the (longitude the distance east or west of the Prime Meridian) and elevation the distance above sea level of various landforms. A topographer studies both the
geology and the geography of the features in the landscape. These features are sometime referred to collectively as areas terrain.



The word topography comes is a combination of two Greek works "topo" meaning place and "graphia" which means to record or take notes.  People have been understandably interested in recording the shape of the land for a long time. Having an accurate image or map of the landscape helps you navigate from place to place by allowing you to position yourself within the landscape and therefore work out the most convenient way of moving through an area. 

So What Is A Topographic Map

We are­ all familiar with maps. Different maps serve different objectives. If you are trying to drive from Point A to Point B, a road map is what you need. But if you wanting to navigate from point A to point B through unfamiliar mountain terrain, perhaps on a hike, you need to see the features and the contours of the landscape. And that means you need a topographic map.

What's the difference between a topographic map and a regular map? Topographic maps show a three-dimensional landscape on a two-dimensional surface. These maps show the land's profiles, elevations, mountains, valleys. Contour and elevation inf­ormation separates them from other maps.
This is why topographic maps are some of the most visually stunning maps you can find. But they are also incredibly data intensive to produce.


In order to produce an accurate topographic map, elevation data needs to be collected for the entire area the map will cover. When producing topographic maps for large areas this process of data collection can be very labor intensive. This is what data over large areas is often collected using planes or satellites.

There are plenty of obstacles for the creators of topographic maps. But because of the need for an accurate representation of the landscape, and the beauty of these maps it is unlikely that people will stop making them.

Further reading

 A more detailed look at topographic maps

How to find your elevation

The topographic map of the future