Map types

A map is a total or partial representation of the earth’s surface that is made following a metric scale. For this reason, even if it is a symbolic representation of a territory, it is quite exact in relation to the indicated proportions.

There may be different types of maps depending on their use. They can be reference or general maps, which serve as a guide to identify a place or to get to it, but there can also be thematic maps, for educational or informative purposes.

General Maps

Also called general reference maps, they are representations of geographic, political, or cultural features of the earth’s surface. The best known and most used general maps are:

1.Political maps

They are a type of reference map that shows the borders or political-territorial divisions between countries or units of territory within a country (provinces, states, municipalities, communes, etc.).

When a political map shows the entirety of the earth’s surface, it is called a world map.

2. Geographical maps

Also called physical maps, they represent the geography of the earth’s surface or a part of it. This means that in them you can see reliefs, mountains, bodies of water, volcanoes or geographical features.

Geographical maps usually only represent natural elements, however, they can sometimes show the political-territorial division of the area shown.

3. Topographic maps

They are representations of the different heights of a terrain, called heights. The different levels of height are represented with symbols called curves or contour lines, which give an idea, to scale, of the reliefs that a given geographical area presents.

In addition to the natural formations that cause the differences in levels, topographic maps can also show man-made formations: roads, streets, buildings, etc.

4. Hydrographic maps

They are a type of geographic map that represents the bodies of water on the earth’s surface (rivers, lakes, lagoons, seas and oceans). Hydrographic maps generally do not indicate depth limits. When they do, they are called bathymetric maps.

These types of maps are a fundamental tool of hydrography, a science that is based on the description and study of the bodies of water on the planet.

5. Geological maps

As its name indicates, this map indicates the geological characteristics of a certain area. These characteristics can be:

  • Terrain anomalies, such as a swamp or mineral buildup.
  • Current flows of underground water bodies.
  • Presence of rocks.
  • Geological faults: they are separations between blocks of tectonic layers. Its movement can cause tremors or earthquakes.
  • Presence of minerals.

These variables are essential to know possible geological risks, and are used in the construction industry, mining and scientific research.

6. Geochemical maps

They are used to represent an accumulation of metallic minerals in the subsoil, which is why they are widely used in the mining industry.

These accumulations can be detected when the surface rocky layer shows certain anomalies, such as a change in color. Once it is verified that these rocks have a metallic mineral concentration, the ground is drilled to confirm if there is indeed an accumulation of minerals sufficient to be exploited.

7. Bathymetric maps

They are representations of the different depth levels of bodies of water. Contour lines, reliefs or colors are used to represent these levels. These maps, also known as bathymetric charts, would be the hydrological version of topographic maps.

Bathymetric maps are used in navigation and are useful in underwater construction projects.

8. Soil maps

Edaphological maps are also known as soil maps and are used to project the distribution of different types of soil and their respective characteristics in a given geographical area. This information is relevant for the agricultural, mining, construction industry and for research projects.

9. Rainfall maps

The pluviometric maps record the levels of precipitation (rainfall) that have been generated in a given geographical area in a given period, generally one year.

The recorded data is used to generate climatological studies, to plan agricultural calendars and to prevent natural disasters.

10. Maps of geological risks and hazards

They are maps that represent anomalies, characteristics or events that can become a danger for the area in which they are located. Generally, geological hazard and risk maps indicate:

  • Ground slides.
  • Geological faults (may show danger of earthquake).
  • Previous or potential flood zones.

Risk maps are very useful in urban planning projects and in the prevention of natural disasters.

11. Postal code maps

They are maps that are used to delimit the areas covered by a postal code. Due to this, its main use falls on postal service and e-commerce companies, which must organize their shipments based on this code to keep track of the packages to be delivered.

12. Time zone map

They are a type of map that indicates the 24 time zones in which the Earth divides. Each of these strips, represented in the form of vertical bands, covers different territories that share the same time zone, so the map helps to locate the legal time of those areas more easily.

13. Economic maps

They are maps that reflect the economic activities carried out in a given territory. Their usefulness lies in the fact that they allow to quickly locate the areas or the type of activities that generate wealth in the studied area.

These data can be used in the creation of public policies (such as data collection for the creation of an employment plan) or educational (understanding what are the productive activities of a region).

14. Historical maps

They represent events that took place in the past, that is why they are used as a reference to understand the context in which the studied phenomenon developed. Historical maps can be of two types:

  • Synchronous : show a particular historical period. For example, a map on the political-territorial organization of Europe during the French Revolution.
  • Diachronic : show the changes or evolution of a phenomenon in different historical periods. For example, the trend of voters in Mexico City in the last 20 years.

15. Orographic maps

They are maps that show the differences in relief of a territory, such as the elevations and depths of a terrain. They can also show mountain systems, if any. Differences in relief are usually illustrated with green, yellow and brown colors, resembling the terrain conditions.

This type of map is one of the tools of orography, which is the branch of geography that describes the characteristics of the soil and subsoil. They are used for scientific research or to plan infrastructure works.

16. Ortofotomapas

It is a photographic composition of a part of the earth’s surface, created from high quality aerial or satellite photographs, called orthophotographs, which are characterized by lacking the deformations of traditional camera lenses. For this reason they are as valid and useful representations as a traditional map.

Thematic maps

They are representations of aspects or events that are or occur in a specific territory. To elaborate them, a geographical map is used as a base, and on this the thematic content is designed to indicate the phenomenon studied.

Depending on the type of data shown, thematic maps can be:

  • Qualitative : when they describe characteristics, for example, a map that indicates the types of birds that can be seen in a specific area.
  • Quantitative : when they offer numerical values, for example, a map showing the population density of a rural area.

Depending on the theme or phenomenon they represent, thematic maps are classified into:

17. Road maps

They are maps that indicate the existence of highways, roads and streets within a specific area. While the use of paper road maps was very common among long-distance drivers and travelers for a long time, currently the most widely used road maps use satellite technology, such as Google Maps.

18. Urban maps

They are a type of thematic map that records the main characteristics of a city, such as streets, avenues, places of cultural interest, public institutions, hospitals, police stations, etc.

Like road maps, the level of detail of urban maps has increased thanks to the use of satellite technology and its use is very common today to locate addresses or places.

19. Demographic maps

They are thematic maps that express the distribution of the population in a specific territory. Differences in population density are often represented by colors or symbols, such as oval or circular geometric shapes.

They are also called population density maps.

20. Linguistic maps

They are representations of the different languages ​​spoken in a geographic area. They are especially useful in places where, in addition to the official language, other languages ​​are spoken, a common phenomenon in indigenous communities or isolated populations.

21. Climate maps

They represent the climatic conditions of a region. They are used to appreciate the variations of the climate and the formation of microclimates (climatic patterns of a reduced area). Digital technology is currently used to identify and disseminate, in real time, the status of the different variables that affect the climate, such as:

  • Temperature.
  • Atmospheric pressure.
  • Chance of rain.
  • Wind speed and direction.
  • Atmospheric humidity

Climate maps are used in navigation, agriculture, aeronautics, in the prevention of natural disasters, etc.

22. Income maps

It is a representation of the income of the inhabitants of a territory according to a certain variable. For example, income distribution in a city according to gender, age, type of profession, etc.

These data are generally obtained from national censuses, although they can also be obtained through massive surveys or data provided by government tax collection institutions.

23. Electoral maps

They are a type of thematic map used in local or national voting processes. Electoral maps show the level of voter participation, projections of results and, at the end of the process, can include a summary of the total number of votes for a municipality, province, state or city.

When designed for audiovisual or digital media, electoral maps are updated as election day progresses.

24. Maps of natural resources

They are thematic maps that show the distribution of natural resources in a region, city or country. For example, existence and distribution of diamonds, gold, iron, bauxite, precious stones, gas, oil or forest reserves, to name a few resources.

This type of map serves for governments to be aware of available resources and to generate policies based on their exploitation or preservation.

25. Birth maps

They show the number of births that occurred in a given place and period. These data are usually extracted from censuses and / or statistics of the national health authorities.

Knowing the number of births in a specific area allows population density projections to be made. With these data, governments can take long-term health, economic or infrastructure measures.

26. Tourist

Tourist-type thematic maps show the places of interest in a city, region or town. These places can be natural areas or constructions created by man (such as emblematic buildings or monuments). They can also show specific events, such as festivals or holidays (national holidays, carnivals, religious holidays, etc.)

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