Topographical maps have more uses than we may think especially in architecture. Here are 7 uses you didn’t know about for topographical mapping.

Did you know that topographical mapping dates back to the fourth-century Roman Empire? Of course, mapping and site engineering have come a long way since the “golden age of togas.” In fact, you may be surprised by all of the ways that topographical maps get used.

From flood analyses to natural disaster evacuations, a simple topographic map helps leaders make complicated decisions. Researchers, emergency workers, geographers, architects, and more rely on them every day. Read on for seven surprising things you didn’t know about topographical mapping.

What’s a Topographic Map?

First, let’s define topographic map in its broadest terms. A topographic map refers to a representation of the earth’s three-dimensional land surface in a two-dimensional graphic.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), topographical maps “present elevation (contour lines), hydrography, geographic place names, and a variety of cultural features. Current-generation topographic maps are created from digital GIS databases, and are branded ‘US Topo.'”

Like other maps, topographical maps get made by cartographers or map makers. They employ symbols and lines to relay sophisticated information about the landscape. Here’s how they do it.

The Elements of Cartography

Cartographers rely on a combination of graphical elements to make maps. These include:

  • Colors
  • Symbols
  • Labels
  • Numbers
  • Contour lines
  • Dots

These elements allow cartographers to record land and water features such as:

  • Mountains
  • Rivers
  • Lakes
  • Forests
  • Cities
  • Roads
  • Bridges
  • Other natural features
  • Other man-made features

Cartographers face important decisions when compiling data for a map. They must select what to include and exclude on the map. Otherwise, the overload of information would prove bewildering.

The Right Information

Great cartographers keep their audience in mind as they craft maps. That way, the reader can access the information they need quickly and easily.

For example, a backcountry dirt biking map should include contour lines, roads, and bridges. But it won’t need to show weather stations, mineral deposits, or water rights.

What other information can individuals get from these maps? Let’s look at seven ways they get used every day.

1) Infrastructure Designs

Topographic maps prove invaluable for those designing new infrastructure. Architects, engineers, and planners use maps to design:

  • Gas lines
  • Water pipes
  • Highways
  • Railways

These maps show where the terrain changes and how. That way, important decisions about where to lay infrastructure can be made. Designers can also factor in elevation changes, rough terrain, and other natural features impacting infrastructure placement.

2) Telecom Decisions

Telecom workers utilize these maps, too. They use them to perform view-shed analyses. This helps workers choose the best locations for cell phone towers.

That way, areas around the proposed tower receive maximum coverage. Telecom workers do this to minimize dreaded “dead zones.” You might say, topo maps guarantee you’ve got four bars.

3) Dam Building

When it comes to dams, topo maps help engineers, too. They’re used to determine where to build dams. They also help dam engineers locate submerge areas.

Topographic maps contain important information about dam catchments, too. Dam catchments refer to areas in the natural landscape where water accumulates. Dams can then be designed to take advantage of these natural collection points.

4) Flood Preparation

Topographic maps help workers assess flood risk. How? Terrain gradients determine where flood waters will flow.

City planners and developers use this information to make informed decisions about where to build ditches and canals to divert flood water.

Maps with ground elevations and features help everyone from city planners to architects to insurance companies. They use them to analyze and rank the likelihood of future flood events by location.

That way, communities can understand their area’s flood risk. Then, they can make the necessary preparations in advance. Topographic maps also let community leaders know which areas will require evacuation when the rain clouds roll in.

5) Military Planning

Topographic maps have long been used by the military to plan and strategize. Without a thorough understanding of topography, military personnel proves vulnerable to hostile attacks.

Remember when we talked about telecom companies earlier and their view-shed analyses? The military relies on view-sheds, too. They use them to decide:

  • where to place units
  • where to construct watchtowers
  • where to perform other activities essential to campaign success

Terrain remains one of the most decisive factors in military victory or failure. Military leaders that ignore geography lose.

6) Natural Disaster Evacuation

In the midst of natural disasters, evacuations prove necessary. When emergency workers relocate affected people, they must ensure their safety. What to do?

They consult topographic maps to get a better lay of the land. They can determine the best locations for evacuation keeping victims safe. Whether it’s moving flood victims to higher ground or landslide victims away from threats, these maps mean the difference between safety and tragedy.

7) Landslide Risk Assessment

Topographic maps help emergency workers and city planners find areas prone to landslides. How do they do it?

They analyze topo maps along with factors like:

  • Soil type
  • Location of roads
  • Location of buildings
  • Location of other infrastructure
  • Duration of rainfall

Then, they can make accurate predictions about the areas most at risk. They use these assessments to create contingency plans and draft plans for removing risks through land grading and etc.

They also use maps to pinpoint at-risk communities. That way, they can educate neighborhoods before landslide activity happens.

Landslides prove devastating. And they can happen with little warning, especially following other disasters like fires. Having an accurate means of gauging the danger helps community leaders prevent tragedy.

Topographical Mapping

Many people think topographical maps are just for hikers and geographers. But think again.

They remain among the most useful resources for a wide variety of workers. From dam builders to natural disaster relief workers and more.

Topographical mapping provides important information about landscapes, cities, and natural disaster risks. They help telecom companies offer better cell phone service.

They aid city planners in designing successful (and safe) infrastructure. Topographic maps help military personnel stay out of harm’s way.

Site Design Experts

Interested in learning more about the importance of topographical mapping to quality site engineering? Or, maybe you have questions about hiring a residential architect? We’re here to help.

If you’ve got a project in mind, contact us today. From structural engineering services to architectural plans and more, let us put our expertise to work for you.