A topographic map or topographic sheet is a kind of map that is characterized by large scale detail and quantitative representation of relief features, generally making use of contour lines, but historically making use of a variety of methods. Traditional definitions dictate that a topographic map must show both natural as well as artificial features.
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A topographic survey is generally based on a systematic observation and published as a series made of two or more map sheets that combine to form the whole map. It uses a common specification that includes the range of cartographic symbols as well as a standard geodetic framework defining the map projection, ellipsoid, geodetic datum, and coordinate system. Official topographic maps also adopt a national grid referencing system.
Such maps depict the following in intricate detail:
- Ground relief like landforms and terrain in detail
- Drainage such as lakes and rivers
- Forest cover
- Administrative areas
- Populated areas
- Transportation routes and facilities which includes roads and railways
In the vernacular and day to day world, the representation of contours is the most common one held to define the genre. Small scale maps that show relief are commonly called topographic.
The discipline of topography is a much broader field of study that takes into account all natural and man-made features of terrain. Maps were the first artifacts to record observations about topography.
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