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2.8: Maps

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    What information does a map show?

    Maps can convey a lot of different types of information. They can tell you where you are, or they can tell you something about a location. Maps can display the relief of an area. They can indicate something about the society that lives in the area. Different types of maps show many different types of things.

    Maps as Models

    Imagine you are going on a road trip. Perhaps you are going on vacation. How do you know where to go? Most likely, you will use a map. A map is a picture of specific parts of Earth’s surface. There are many types of maps. Each map gives us different information. Let’s look at a road map, which is the probably the most common map that you use (Figure below).

    Road map of Florida

    A road map of the state of Florida. What information can you get from this map?

    Map Legends

    You can see the following on this road map of Florida (Figure above):

    • The boundaries of the state show its shape.
    • Black dots represent the cities. Each city is named. The size of the dot represents the population of the city.
    • Red and brown lines show major roads that connect the cities.
    • Blue lines show rivers. Their names are written in blue.
    • Blue areas show lakes and other waterways: the Gulf of Mexico, Biscayne Bay, and Lake Okeechobee. Names for bodies of water are also written in blue.
    • A line or scale of miles shows the distance represented on the map; an inch or centimeter on the map represents a certain amount of distance (miles or kilometers).
    • Look for the legend on the top left side of the map. The legend explains other features and symbols on the map.
    • It is the convention for north to be at the top of a map. For this reason, a compass rose is not needed on most maps.

    You can use this map to find your way around Florida and get from one place to another along roadways.

    Types of Maps

    There are many other types of maps other than road maps. Some examples include:

    • Political or geographic maps show the outlines and borders of states and/or countries.
    • Satellite view maps show terrains and vegetation: forests, deserts, and mountains.
    • Relief maps, also called contour maps, show elevations of areas. They are usually on a larger scale, such as the whole Earth, rather than a local area.
    • Topographic maps show detailed elevations of features on the map.
    • Climate maps show average temperatures and rainfall.
    • Precipitation maps show the amount of rainfall in different areas.
    • Weather maps show storms, air masses, and fronts.
    • Radar maps show storms and rainfall.
    • Geologic maps detail the types and locations of rocks found in an area.

    These are but a few types of maps that various Earth scientists might use. You can easily carry a map around in your pocket or bag. Maps are easy to use, because they are flat or two-dimensional. However, the world is three-dimensional. So, how do mapmakers represent a three-dimensional world on flat paper?


    • Maps are two-dimensional representations of a surface, usually Earth's.
    • Maps use symbols and have legends. This is so they can display the most amount of information in the least amount of space.
    • There are many types of maps. They can show social and political information; they can show scientific information.


    1. Using the road map of Florida (Figure above), in what direction would you go to get from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa?
    2. Why do most maps begin with a portion of Earth's surface? When might they use something different as their base?
    3. What types of maps are most useful to Earth scientists?

    Explore More

    Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

    1. What does a geologic map show?
    2. How does a geologist (who, BTW, can also be female) begin to create a geologic map?
    3. What is a topographic map?
    4. How does a geologist make a geologic map from a topographic map?
    5. What are aerial photographs? Why does a geologist use two of the same photographs side by side?
    6. What do each of the colors on a geologic map represent?

    This page titled 2.8: Maps is shared under a CK-12 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by CK-12 Foundation via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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