Introduction of Contour Interval


Introduction of Contour Interval

One of the fundamental concepts in topographical mapping is the use of contour intervals. Contour intervals play an essential role in representing the elevation and topography of a given area. These intervals help to create a visual representation of the land’s shape, elevation, and other natural features, making it easier for cartographers, geologists, and other professionals to interpret and analyze the landscape. In this article, we will explore the meaning, purpose, and various applications of contour intervals in mapping and its significance in understanding the contours of our world. Let us delve into the world of contour intervals and understand its importance in cartography.

What is Contour Interval

What is Contour Interval

A contour interval is a vertical distance on a topographic map (or other map) that represents the difference in elevation between two adjacent contour lines. It is a crucial component of topographic maps, as it provides a visual representation of the changes in elevation and helps the user to understand the topography of an area.

The contour interval is defined by the map’s scale, which is the ratio between the size of the map and the actual size of the terrain it represents. A larger scale map will typically have a smaller contour interval, while a smaller scale map will have a larger contour interval. This is because a larger scale map covers a smaller area, so more contour lines can be included to show smaller changes in elevation. On the other hand, a smaller scale map covers a larger area and therefore has fewer contour lines, representing larger changes in elevation.

Contour lines are imaginary lines that connect points of equal elevation on a map. The elevation of these lines is indicated by a number, also known as the contour line index, which is usually located on the line itself. The contour interval is determined by the difference in elevation between two adjacent contour lines. For example, if a map has a contour interval of 50 feet, then each contour line represents a change in elevation of 50 feet.

Contour intervals are not standardized and vary depending on the purpose and scale of the map. In general, a contour interval of 20 feet is used in engineering and construction plans, while a contour interval of 100 feet is common for general use maps. In some cases, a map may have multiple contour intervals to represent different elevations in the same area, such as a hilly or mountainous terrain.

Contour intervals are important for engineers, surveyors, and other professionals who use topographic maps for planning, design, and construction purposes. By evaluating the contour lines and the contour interval, these professionals can determine the slope of the land, identify potential changes in elevation, and visualize the terrain’s overall shape and topography.

In conclusion, the contour interval is a crucial element of topographic maps that helps users to interpret the terrain’s elevation and topography. It is determined by the map’s scale and represents the vertical distance between two adjacent contour lines. Understanding the contour interval is essential for professionals in various fields to accurately analyze and plan for construction projects.

Steps of Calculating Contour Intervals

Steps of Calculating Contour Intervals

Calculating contour intervals is an important step in surveying and mapping. Contour intervals refer to the vertical distance between two adjacent contour lines on a topographic map. They are used to represent the changes in elevation of the land surface. The following are the steps to calculate contour intervals:

1. Understand the scale of the map: The first step is to understand the scale of the map. This is usually given in the title or legend of the map. The scale tells us the ratio of the map distance to the actual distance on the ground. For example, if the scale is 1:10,000, it means that 1 cm on the map represents 10,000 cm or 100 meters on the ground.

2. Determine the contour interval unit: The contour interval unit is the unit of measurement used on the map to represent the vertical distance between two contour lines. It could be in feet, meters, or any other unit. This is usually mentioned in the legend of the map.

3. Locate the contour lines: Contour lines are the lines that connect points of equal elevation on the map. They are usually marked with their elevation value, which is indicated by a number next to the line. Locate the two adjacent contour lines between which you want to calculate the contour interval.

4. Find the difference in elevation between the two lines: Using the elevation values on the two contour lines, subtract the smaller value from the larger one. The result will be the difference in elevation between the two lines.

5. Convert the difference in elevation to map units: The next step is to convert the difference in elevation to map units using the scale of the map. To do this, multiply the difference in elevation by the denominator of the scale. For example, if the scale is 1:10,000 and the difference in elevation is 100 meters, then the difference in elevation in map units would be 100 x 10,000 = 1,000,000 cm.

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6. Divide the result by the number of contour lines: The final step is to divide the result by the number of contour lines between which you want to calculate the contour interval. For example, if there are 5 contour lines between the two lines and the result of step 5 is 1,000,000 cm, then the contour interval would be 1,000,000 / 5 = 200,000 cm.

In conclusion, calculating contour intervals involves understanding the scale of the map, locating the contour lines, finding the difference in elevation, converting it to map units, and dividing it by the number of contour lines. These steps ensure an accurate representation of elevation changes on a topographic map.

Example Calculation of Contour Interval

Example Calculation of Contour Interval

Example Calculation of Contour Interval:

A contour interval is a vertical distance between contour lines on a topographic map. It represents the change in elevation between two adjacent contour lines. It is an important factor to consider in civil engineering projects, as it helps in understanding the topography of the site and planning the construction accordingly.

Let’s take an example of calculating the contour interval for a topographic map of a hilly area that has a scale of 1:5000. The map shows contour lines at every 5-meter interval.

Step 1: Determine the scale of the map

The scale of a map represents the relationship between distances on the map and the ground. In this case, the scale is 1:5000, which means that one unit of measurement on the map is equivalent to 5000 units on the ground.

Step 2: Identify the distance between two adjacent contour lines

The map has a contour line at every 5-meter interval. This means that the distance between two adjacent contour lines on the ground will be 5 meters. However, this is measured on the map, and we need to convert it to the ground distance.

Step 3: Convert the distance to ground distance

To convert the distance on the map to the ground distance, we will use the scale of the map. Since the scale is 1:5000, we can multiply the map distance by 5000 to get the ground distance.

5 meters x 5000 = 25,000 meters

Step 4: Determine the contour interval

The contour interval is the vertical distance between two adjacent contour lines. In this case, the vertical distance is 5 meters. However, we need to convert this to the real-life ground distance.

To do this, we will use the ground distance we calculated in Step 3 and divide it by the number of contour lines that represent that distance.

25,000 meters / 5 = 5,000 meters

Therefore, the contour interval of this topographic map is 5,000 meters.

Step 5: Check the results

To confirm the accuracy of our calculation, we can use a different method to calculate the contour interval. For example, we can measure the vertical distance between two contour lines on the map with a ruler and convert it to the ground distance using the scale.

Based on our calculated contour interval, the distance between two adjacent contour lines on the ground should be 5,000 meters. If our result matches the actual ground distance, it means our calculation is correct.


Calculating the contour interval is essential for any engineering project that involves working on a hilly or uneven terrain. It helps in understanding the topography of the area and designing structures accordingly. By following the above steps, civil engineers can accurately determine the contour interval of a topographic map and use it in their projects.

Few Things You Should Know

Few Things You Should Know

1. Understanding the role of a civil engineer: As a civil engineer, your job is to design, construct and maintain the various physical structures and infrastructure that support our daily lives. This could include buildings, roads, bridges, airports, water supply systems, or waste management systems. It is a vital role in society and requires a strong understanding of engineering principles, as well as project management and problem-solving skills.

2. Continual learning is crucial: Technology and techniques in the field of civil engineering are constantly evolving. As such, it is essential for a civil engineer to stay updated with the latest advancements through continuous learning. This not only ensures that you stay competitive in the industry but also helps you improve your skills and stay relevant to the changing needs of the job market.

3. Proper time and project management: Civil engineering projects can take months or even years to complete, and often have strict deadlines. As a civil engineer, it is crucial to possess excellent time and project management skills to ensure that projects are completed on time, within budget, and with high quality. This requires strong organization and delegation skills to effectively oversee and coordinate all aspects of a project.

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4. Attention to detail is essential: A small error in the design or construction of a structure can have catastrophic consequences. As a civil engineer, you must be detail-oriented and have a keen eye for identifying potential issues and solving them before they become major problems. This not only ensures the safety and durability of your projects but also maintains your professional reputation.

5. Communication is critical: Civil engineers often work within teams, and effective communication is key to the success of any project. You need to be able to communicate complex technical information clearly and concisely to clients, contractors, and other team members who may not have the same level of technical expertise as you. Good communication skills also help in presenting project plans and proposals to stakeholders and obtaining necessary permits and approvals.

6. The ability to adapt to different environments: As a civil engineer, you may work in various conditions such as offices, construction sites, or remote locations. Each environment may present different challenges that require you to adapt accordingly. You need to be prepared to work in different settings and be able to problem-solve in any situation.

7. Understanding environmental regulations and sustainability: Civil engineers have a significant impact on the environment through their projects. It is, therefore, important to understand and comply with environmental regulations to minimize negative impacts and promote sustainability. In today’s world, there is a growing emphasis on green and sustainable engineering practices, and as a civil engineer, it is your responsibility to incorporate these principles into your work.

In conclusion, being a civil engineer requires not only technical expertise but also strong communication, organizational, and problem-solving skills. Continuous learning and keeping up with industry advancements are crucial for success in this field. As a civil engineer, you have the opportunity to make a tangible impact on society and contribute to the development and improvement of our built environment.

Factors Affecting Contour Intervals

Factors Affecting Contour Intervals

Contour intervals are an essential aspect of topographical maps and are used to represent the elevation or height of the land surface. They are the vertical distance between two consecutive contour lines and help in understanding the terrain and its features. The contour interval value is determined based on several factors that affect its accuracy and usefulness. These factors include scale, steepness of the terrain, and type of topographic map.

1. Scale:
The scale of a map refers to the ratio of the map distance to the actual ground distance. A larger-scale map will have a smaller contour interval compared to a smaller-scale map. This is because a large-scale map covers a smaller area and allows for more detailed contour lines to be drawn, while a small-scale map covers a larger area and requires a wider contour interval to maintain readability.

2. Steepness of the terrain:
The contour interval should be adjusted based on the steepness of the terrain. Steeper terrain requires a smaller contour interval as the elevation change between two points will be greater. This ensures that the contour lines accurately represent the terrain’s vertical features. On the other hand, flatter terrain can have a wider contour interval as the elevation change between two points will be less noticeable.

3. Type of topographic map:
The type of topographic map also plays a role in determining the contour interval. For example, a topographic map used for urban planning will have a smaller contour interval compared to a map used for hiking or recreational purposes. This is because urban areas have more man-made structures and features that may need to be accurately represented, while a hiking map focuses on the natural terrain.

4. Accuracy of elevation data:
The accuracy of the elevation data used to create the map also affects the contour interval. If the data is collected using less precise methods such as using aerial photographs or satellite images, a larger contour interval may be needed to account for any errors. However, if the data is collected using precise methods such as surveying, a smaller contour interval can be used to represent the terrain more accurately.

5. User requirements:
The contour interval can also be adjusted based on the user’s requirements. For example, if the map is intended for engineers working on a construction site, a smaller contour interval would be necessary compared to a map used for general navigation or tourism. This is because engineers need more detailed information about the terrain to design and construct structures accurately.

In conclusion, the contour interval is determined based on various factors to ensure that it accurately represents the terrain’s elevation. It is crucial to consider these factors when creating or interpreting topographic maps to avoid any inaccuracies or misinterpretations.

Advantages of Contour Interval

Advantages of Contour Interval

Contour interval is an important concept in the field of civil engineering, particularly in the design and planning of topographical features. It refers to the vertical distance between adjacent contour lines on a topographical map. These lines connect points of equal elevation to give a pictorial representation of the land’s surface relief.

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The following are some of the advantages of using contour interval in civil engineering:

1. Accurate representation of topography: Contour lines are the most accurate method of representing the topography of an area. They provide a visual image, with lines representing different elevations, which convey the shape and form of the terrain. This information is essential for engineers in planning and designing structures and infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and buildings.

2. Easy to understand: Contour lines are easy to interpret and understand even for non-technical individuals. This makes them an effective tool for communication between engineers and clients, as well as during public presentations and discussions.

3. Cost-effective: By using contour lines, engineers can accurately assess the terrain and design structures that work with the natural topography. This can reduce the costs of construction and minimize the need for expensive earthwork or slope modifications.

4. Efficient design: Contour lines allow engineers to determine the most suitable location for a structure or infrastructure by studying the natural contours. This can help optimize the design for maximum stability and functionality. It also helps avoid costly mistakes that may arise from inaccurate topographical information.

5. Planning for drainage: Accurate contour intervals can help engineers identify natural drainage patterns of an area. This information is vital in designing drainage systems to prevent flooding and minimize erosion.

6. Environmental impact assessment: Contour lines provide a visual representation of the terrain, which is essential in assessing the potential environmental impact of a construction project. Engineers can identify sensitive areas such as wetlands or habitats and design around them to minimize disturbance.

7. Planning for emergency management: The topographical information provided by contour intervals can be used to create emergency response plans. These plans can incorporate information on escape routes, evacuation centers, and potential hazards in an area, which can be critical in times of disasters.

In conclusion, contour interval has many advantages for engineers in various stages of project planning and design. It provides accurate and easy to understand information, helps optimize design, reduce costs, and assists in environmental and emergency management. Its importance cannot be overstated in the field of civil engineering.

Disadvantages of Contour Interval

Disadvantages of Contour Interval

1. Inaccurate Representations: Contour interval is not always accurate in representing the terrain or topography of an area. This is because the interval is predetermined and may not accurately capture the specific characteristics of the terrain.

2. Limited Detail: Contour interval maps only show a small amount of detail compared to other mapping techniques. This means that important features such as small streams, cliffs, or changes in vegetation may not be accurately represented.

3. Sloping Terrain Bias: Contour intervals are often not suitable for representing steeply sloped areas. This is because the intervals become compressed, making it difficult to accurately depict the vertical changes in elevation.

4. Cumbersome to Interpret: Interpreting contour intervals can be challenging for those who are not trained in cartography or geographical information systems. This can lead to misinterpretation of the map, resulting in errors or inaccuracies.

5. Limited Application: Contour interval maps are not suitable for all types of projects. For instance, they may not be appropriate for urban planning or engineering projects that require more precise and detailed information.

6. Time-Consuming: Creating a contour interval map requires a significant amount of time and effort, particularly in areas with complex terrain. This can be a disadvantage for time-sensitive projects that require quick and accurate data.

7. High Cost: Contour interval mapping can be a costly process, especially in remote or inaccessible areas. The cost of equipment, personnel, and data processing can significantly increase the overall project budget.

8. Subject to Error: Contour interval maps are susceptible to errors due to factors such as human error, equipment malfunction, or changes in the terrain. This can lead to misleading or inaccurate data, resulting in costly mistakes in later stages of a project.

9. Limited Spatial Accuracy: Contour intervals may not provide precise location information compared to other mapping techniques such as satellite imagery or LiDAR. This can be a disadvantage for projects that require high spatial accuracy.

10. Limited Vertical Accuracy: Contour interval maps may not accurately represent the vertical changes in elevation, particularly in areas with small elevation differences. This can lead to errors in slope calculations and other engineering applications.


In conclusion, the contour interval is an essential aspect of any topographic map. It provides a visual representation of the shape and elevation changes of the land, which can aid in understanding the terrain’s characteristics and features. By following the defined rules for contour intervals, map users can accurately interpret the information presented and plan their journey accordingly. From surveying and engineering projects to hiking and outdoor activities, the contour interval plays a crucial role in depicting accurate and detailed topographic information for various purposes. With a clear understanding of this concept, individuals can confidently navigate and explore the land while making informed decisions based on the map’s topographic features. Overall, the introduction of contour intervals is a fundamental step towards creating a comprehensive and accurate representation of our planet’s diverse


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