How to Construct a Cross-Section from a Map

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  • 0:04 Topographic Maps &…
  • 1:27 Making a Cross-Section
  • 2:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matthew Bergstresser

Matthew has a Master of Arts degree in Physics Education

A topographic map can be used to create a cross-section along any line drawn on the map. This lesson will demonstrate how to do this by looking at a map of Armadillo Ridge.

Topographic Maps & Cross-Sections

Let's pretend we are going on a class field trip to an imaginary location known as Armadillo Ridge. Before we get there, we want to determine the easiest way to the top. To help us, we will use a topographic map of Armadillo Ridge to make a cross-section showing us a side view of the land.

When looking at a flat map, there is always a compass rose indicating the cardinal directions: North, South, East and West. A topographical map is a flat map that shows elevation. This extra feature of showing elevation uses lines of equal elevation that loop around the map. These are contour lines. They can never cross because there can't be a location that has two different elevations.

We can use a topographical map to make a cross-section along any straight line we draw on the map. A cross-section will give us an idea of how the terrain looks from a side view.

Let's first look at a topographical map of Armadillo Ridge.


Any location along the 100-foot line is 100 feet above sea-level. The same goes for the other contour lines respectively. The bold line drawn across the map starting with A and ending at A' (A-prime) is the cross-section we are going to draw.

You may be wondering why the right-side of the map is cut off. This is normal. A map can be made for a very specific location, and the terrain to the east was not necessary to include in the map of Armadillo Ridge.

Making a Cross-Section

Let's go through the different steps required to make a cross-section on a map.

Step 1:

Take a thin strip of paper and place it along the cross-section line. Where the contours intersect with the strip of paper, make a mark and record the elevation. These marks and elevations are shown in red.


Step 2:

Take that strip of paper and put it on a fresh piece of paper. Draw two vertical lines (similar to two y-axes on a graph) representing the boundaries of your cross-section. Also, draw equally spaced elevation lines parallel to your strip of paper. These lines would be parallel to the x-axis on a graph and are labeled with numbers representing elevations. It looks nice if you make the bottom line 50 feet below your lowest elevation and your top line 50 feet above your highest elevation.


Step 3:

Draw dots corresponding to the elevations along the strip of paper representing the cross-section line.


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