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Ramasesh Iyer

Give Introduction of Contouring

Contouring is the science of representing the vertical dimension of the terrain on a two dimensional map. We can understand contouring by considering a simple example.

Let us assume that a right circular cone of base 5m diameter and vertical height 5m is standing upright on its base. Let the base be resting on a horizontal plane at zero level as shown in Figure 1.
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Explain Terms Used in Contouring

Define Contour Line
A Contour line is an imaginary outline of the terrain obtained by joining its points of equal elevation. In our example of the cone, each circle is a contour line joining points of same level.

Define Contour Interval (CI)
Contour interval is the difference between the levels of consecutive contour lines on a map. The contour interval is a constant in a given map. In our example, the contour interval is 1m.
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What is the Difference Between Contour Interval and Horizontal Equivalent

There are three main differences between contour interval and horizontal equivalent as follows:

S.No Contour Interval Horizontal Equivalent
1 It is based on vertical levels Represents horizontal distance
2 No measurement or scaling is required since the contour levels are indicated on the contour lines The distance must be measured on the map and converted to actual distance by multiplying with the scale of the map
3 In a given map the contour interval is a constant The horizontal equivalent varies with slope. Closer distance indicates steep slope and wider distance gentle slope

We at are thankful to Mr Ramasesh Iyer for submitting this useful information to us.

What are the factors governing Selection of Contour Intervals?

The survey leader has to decide an appropriate contour interval for his project before start of survey work. The following factors govern the selection of contour interval for a project:

S.No Factor Select High CI like 1m, 2m, 5m or more Select Low CI like 0.5m, 0.25m, 0.1m or less
1 Nature of ground If the ground has large variation in levels, for instance, hills and ponds If the terrain is fairly level
2 Scale of the map For small scale maps covering a wide area of varying terrain For large scale maps

showing details of a small area

3 Extent of survey For rough topographical map

meant for initial assessment only

For preparation of detailed map for execution of work
4 Time and resources


If less time and resources are


If more time and resources are available


We at are thankful to Mr Ramasesh Iyer for submitting this useful information to us.

What are the Characteristics of Contours?

Contours show distinct characteristic features of the terrain as follows:

i) All points on a contour line are of the same elevation.

ii) No two contour lines can meet or cross each other except in the rare case of an overhanging vertical cliff or wall
iii) Closely spaced contour lines indicate steep slope
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