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Discovery DiscoveryOctober 2000

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On the Web Topo Maps to Go!

Topo Maps by Brenda Mathenia

Planning a trip to Hawaii and curious about the hiking potential near Waikiki? Exploring a new community? Can't find a paper copy of your favorite topographic map? No need to fret, the United States Geological Survey, in partnership with businesses throughout the U.S., are making USGS Quadrangle Maps available via the Internet.

A variety of Internet sites will allow you to access quadrangle maps for your personal use. What do I mean by access? Well, you can view and in most cases print maps directly from your computer. Some sites will allow you to download the digital files to use in your own GIS or other applications. Sites vary in the quality of the maps available, and the greater the technology available to you the greater potential these sites provide.

Montana's own Natural Resources Information System provides a TopoFinder that assists users in locating appropriate topographic quadrangle maps. You can search by place name, feature name, quadrangle name or latitude/longitude. Printing options are available though the quality is still rough. This is a great site for finding the most appropriate Montana quadrangle map for your needs.

Some of the most user-friendly sites are commercial in nature and provide maps for printing and other services. One such site is TopoZone, part of the USGS Digital Cartographic Business Partner program. Here you can search for a map by its official name, by a geographic feature or populated place. You can choose the best scale with which to view your map Ñ1:24,000, 1:100,000 and in some cases 1:250,000. Once in a map view, you can change scales or scroll the compass directions to view adjacent areas. Printing of maps for personal use is allowed though the viewing window is small -- about 9.5" x 7" on my screen with a similarly sized print product.

MapTech MapServer provides access to topographic maps and nautical charts. You can also find aerial photos, called NavPhotos, that cover coastal regions only. Searching is available by place name and state with options for zooming and panning to adjacent areas. Maps print well, and there is an option for e-mailing maps to yourself or your friends. The site provides many links to other mapping products, travel guides and software.

Another site to consider is TerraServer. Not only can you access topographic maps but this site also specializes in aerial photos and satellite images of the U.S. and select areas of the world. Users can select a coverage area from a map then choose whether to view a topographic map, a relief map or a satellite image. With both maps and images available, this site provides a unique opportunity to compare information available on each type of product.

All of these sites can provide you with maps for your personal/recreational use. Current printing options are limited, but as technology continues to improve and larger format printing becomes available, these sites will play an ever-increasing role in the lives of adventurers around the world.

Brenda Mathenia is a reference librarian at the MSU Libraries.


© 2000 Montana State University-Bozeman

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