Why do Cartographers only name some of the contour lines on maps

Why do you think cartographers only name some of the contour lines on maps? Well, on this page we find out why. Cartographers, or map makers, only name some of the contour lines on maps for several reasons.

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Reasons Why do Cartographers only name some of the contour lines on maps

Cartographers don’t label every contour line on maps for a few straightforward reasons:

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#1: To Keep the Map Clear:

If they put names on all the lines, the map would look too busy and be hard to read. It’s like trying to find your way through a crowded room; too much information can be overwhelming.

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  • Example 1: Think of a city map with every street name written on it. If every building’s name was also added, it would be too cluttered to find your way around.
  • Example 2: Imagine a recipe with too many instructions squeezed onto one page. It gets hard to follow. Similarly, a map with every line named would be too confusing to use.

#2: To Show Important Heights:

By only labeling some lines, cartographers can point out the important heights, like the top of a hill or where the land is flat. It’s like highlighting the most important parts of a story.

  • Example 1: In a movie, the director highlights the main characters and not every extra in the background. Similarly, cartographers label significant elevations like mountain peaks but not every small hill.
  • Example 2: When you tell a story, you focus on the key points and skip the minor details. That’s what cartographers do by labeling only major height changes on a map.
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#3: Because It’s Not Needed:

Since contour lines are spaced evenly and each one means a certain height change, you don’t need to label them all. It’s a bit like using a ruler; once you know what one mark means, you can figure out the rest.

  • Example 1: Just like knowing that each notch on a ruler represents a centimeter helps you measure without counting each time, understanding one labelled contour line lets you figure out the rest.
  • Example 2: Think of a staircase; you don’t need to know the height of each step. Once you know the height of one step, you can guess the rest. It’s the same with contour lines.

#4: To Make the Map Look Good:

Too many labels can make a map look messy. Just like in a painting, sometimes less is more to make it look nice and clean.

  • Example 1: Consider a room decorated with a few beautiful paintings versus one crammed with too much artwork. The first room looks better because it’s not overcrowded, similar to how maps look better without too many labels.
  • Example 2: It’s like wearing a few key pieces of jewelry to enhance an outfit, rather than over-accessorizing. A map with fewer labels is more visually appealing and effective.

So, they label just enough lines to help you understand the map without making it too complicated or messy.

Video Lesson: Contour Map / Topographic Map Reading

Examples of when contour lines are named on maps include:

  1. Topographic maps, which typically name the index contour lines (every fifth line) to indicate changes in elevation.
  2. Maps of mountainous or hilly areas, where contour lines are used to indicate steep gradients and mountain peaks.
  3. Maps of coastlines, where contour lines are used to indicate changes in elevation and the presence of cliffs or other features.
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In summary, cartographers only name some of the contour lines on maps to keep the map clear, readable, and to highlight the most important information about the terrain. This helps users to easily understand the information on the map and make necessary decision accordingly.

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