Analysis of technological change and relief representation in U.S.G.S. topographic maps

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Virginia Tech


In 1882, the United States Geological Survey began its National Mappping Program designed to map the nation using a series of several thousand topographic quadrangles. Since that date, the program and the maps themselves have undergone many changes due mainly to technological advances in mapping methods. The use of data collected from historic U.S.G.S. topographic maps in modem day applications necessitates a general knowledge of the potentials and limitations of these data. This study compares representations of terrain features on historic maps compiled using plane table methods with the same features as represented on more accurate modem maps compiled using photogrammetry. Using the modem map as a standard, errors in the old maps were identified and defined using statistical procedures. Measures of closed contour lines recorded the angularity of the line, the length of the line, the area within the contour, the shape of the feature and spatial relationships between contour pairs. The analysis attempts to relate errors to these geometric components of contour lines and to predict the occurrence of error. Due to practices of smoothing and generalization of contour lines in plane table surveys, measures of both angularity and shape were significantly different between older and newer maps. Systematic errors, a consistent displacement of contour lines in a similar direction, were also identified on the historic maps. Based on these results, several suggestions for continuation of the research are given.