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Maps and Geographic Information Systems: Topographic

Tips, techniques & links to help you find answers for your research papers & projects

Map Symbols


Introduction to Topographic Maps

A topographic map shows more than just elevation. The closer you look, the more symbols and unusual kinds of lines you will see. These can represent such features as streets, buildings, streams, and vegetation, and even pipe lines, windmills, exposed ship wrecks, and former disposal sites. Topographic map symbols are constantly refined to better relate to the features they represent. Do not be surprised if within the same series, maps may have slightly different symbols for the same feature. See this useful list of topographic map symbols from USGS. Of course the more modern the map, the more likely it will be to show a greater variety of features. The historic maps are surprisingly detailed, though. Take a quick look at some of the Missouri sheets through the Perry Castaneda map collection website – some of them date back to 1884! It’s fascinating to compare historic and modern topo maps of the same area.

MU Libraries keeps its physical collection of topographic maps at the Geology Library. The largest set is the 7.5-minute topos, and refer to Inventories of 7.5-minute Maps at the Geology Library to see what is in the collection. There are several online sources as well. The USGS site is one of our favorites. There you can download digital scans of topo maps, find historic topo maps, get aerial photographs and satellite images, and learn more about topographic and other types of maps.

Topographic Maps

Map Collections and Indexes - Geology Library

National Forest Topographic Quadrangle Maps

Located in Ellis Library in the Government Documents Department on 1 East. These are located in Map Cabinet 5, drawers 10-15. Mostly not cataloged - unfolded/flat. Sudoc A 13.28: Index in drawer 10.

Digital maps of the different national forests are linked below.