About this Research Guide
This Research Guide focuses on topographic map and bathymetric chart resources that are available online through digital copies. The guide focuses on both U.S. and international topographic maps as well as bathymetric charts.
What are Topographic Maps?
Features Shown on a Topographic Map
Topographic Maps show the lay of the land of a particular area. They use contour lines to show changes in elevation such as hills, mountains, plains and valleys. Topographic maps incorporate features of an area such as roads, cities, railroads, pipelines, fence lines, bodies of water, trees, wells, buildings, and cemeteries. The USGS provides a list of some of the symbols that are found on topographic maps.
Uses of Topographic Maps
- planning hikes
- tracing river paths
- locating a national park
- finding cemeteries, churches and schools
- looking at oil or gas wells on particular properties
- researching the layout of an area of land
What are Bathymetric Charts?
Features Shown on a Bathymetric Chart
Bathymetric Charts (nautical charts) show a visual presentation of underwater terrain as well as the adjacent coasts. A bathymetric chart shows the land if the overlying waters were removed in the same way as a topographic map. The NOAA provides a guide that explains the basic elements and symbols used on charts.
Uses of Bathymetric Charts
- researching coastal or island topography
- learning where navigational aids (buoys, beacons, lighthouses, etc) are located
- locating shorelines, shallows, reefs, submerged rocks, kelp beds and ocean bottom sediments