How to Determine the Direction a Stream Flows on a Contour Map

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Contour, or topographic maps are basic tools that are used in the earth sciences. These maps give more information than just the location of places or landforms. Contour maps give you the topography of the area. They can show hills, mountains, valleys and streams. Understanding how contours work is vital when studying an area and to get an idea of the layout of the land.

Things You'll Need

  • Contour map
  • Magnifying glass
  • Find the compass on the map and orient the map so that north is pointing straight up.

  • Locate the stream or streams on the map. These are located by finding where the contour lines take the shape of a V.

  • Find the points of the V's. The point is directed upstream. The river or stream is flowing opposite the point toward the opening of the V.

  • Find the values of the contour lines. To ensure you have the direction correct, make sure the stream is flowing toward the contours of lower elevation.

  • Measure the angle of stream flow from north to determine an accurate direction if necessary. Often a basic direction is sufficient.

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