USGS expands National Map digital offerings, putting mountain-scale topography at user’s fingertips
While some may be nostalgic for the days of paging through the standard USGS printed maps to plan their latest outdoor excursion, a USGS digital application called topoBuilder now makes it easier than ever for those who work or play outdoors to create their own custom digital maps of terrain.
But there’s a new payoff to this digital mapping tool: users now have the flexibility to ‘zoom out’ to a medium scale map size at the new 1:100,000 Topo scale, known as 100K Topo.
The 100K Topo is ideal for providing a broad topographic overview of landscapes across a larger area. It’s useful for activities like recreational trip planning, land management, emergency response and more.
Figure 1. Image of a 100K Topo of the Radford, VA area.
Prior the release of 100K Topo, OnDemand Topos were initially only available at the 1:24,000 scale. This detailed scale, known as a 7.5-Minute Topo, closely resembles historic 7.5-minute USGS map products and US Topo maps. An all-purpose map scale, it is ideal for a short hike, real estate and more.
With the addition of 100K Topo, topoBuilder users can now choose between 100K and 7.5-Minute Topo map options when creating their custom maps.
“To gain a better understanding of how 100K Topo and 7.5-Minute Topo scales differ we can compare coverage areas of a well-known city like Denver,” said Ariel Doumbouya, lead USGS developer for topoBuilder (Figure 2).
Not any city, a city in the mountains
The new scale can make all the difference in showing how a geographic feature fits into the broader landscape. Consider Denver, the mile-high city.
“A 100K Topo map of Denver, shown here in the red outline, encompasses a larger coverage area that includes not only the city center but also extending to surrounding suburban areas and even into the mountains outside the city,” said Doumbouya. “In comparison, a 7.5-Minute Topo scale, shown here in the black outline, highlights a smaller area, but a more detailed view that primarily shows Denver’s city center with a few nearby suburban areas.”
Figure 2. Image showing the difference in area coverage between 100K Topo extent (red outline) and 7.5-Minute Topo (black outline) extent.
While the 7.5-Minute Topo scale offers more detailed information of smaller areas, it often requires more maps to cover an area. That’s where the 100K Topo comes in, covering a broader range of the surrounding terrain. Therefore, users typically require fewer maps of the geographic feature they are interested in.
Using Denver as an example, a user wanting to create an OnDemand Topo of the city now has the flexibility to create either a single map at the 1:100,000 scale or they can print 32 maps to cover the same area using the 1:24,000 scale. Their preference will depend on their intended use and information desired on the map.
How to make a custom map
Creating an OnDemand Topo in either scale is quick and easy to do in a few simple steps.
Regardless of mapping expertise, users can access topoBuilder, a free application powered by the latest National Map data, to make their own OnDemand Topo whenever and wherever they need it.
OnDemand Topos are created at the time the user requests them and can made of anywhere within the continental United States, Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. Territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands). The maps are centered based on the user’s area of interest and can be generated in either PDF or TIFF formats.
Once in the topoBuilder web application, users simply select their “map type” as either a 100K Topo or 7.5-Minute Topo. Next, users will select their area of interest for their map either by zooming in to the map to custom select a desired area or by using the search bar at the top right of the screen. Once the area of interest has been selected, users can customize their desired export format type, National Map data, and other customization options depending on map type selected.
The selected map(s) are added to the cart, then adding the request(s) to the topoBuilder queue by entering their email address and the resulting map(s) are typically delivered by email in less than five days.
Users are welcome to request an unlimited maps number of maps, regardless of scale type.
Figure 3. Screen capture of topoBuilder interface showing selection of on-grid and custom extent 100K Topos.
From historic quads to today’s digital alternatives
Historically, USGS was famous for its topographic quadrangle maps, affectionately known to many as ‘quads.’ Originally published as paper maps from 1884 until 2006, the best-known USGS series was the 7.5-minute series. These were typically published at 1:24,000 scale from 1947 to1992.
The OnDemand Topo maps and topoBuilder proved to be so popular with users during the pilot phase, USGS announced in January 2023 that both would permanently join The National Map catalog of products and services.
In fact, one topoBuilder pilot user said “I love your new Topo builder tool! It's awesome. I'm climbing Mount Rainier in August and the quadrant maps cut the mountain in half, so this is a wonderful map to help me see my climb and have a real map on my wall. Thank you again! Looking forward to my beautiful maps!”
To date, over 400,000 OnDemand Topos have been delivered to more than 80,000 customers across every state and territory in the United States.
Any users who haven’t created their own OnDemand Topo map in topoBuilder yet are encouraged to give it a try.
To learn more about OnDemand Topo maps and topoBuilder, visit www.usgs.gov/programs/national-geospatial-program/topobuilder.
More about map scales and how they differ in detail, content and area coverage visit the USGS Map Scales publication.
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