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OS Maps: Landscape Features

This GCSE Geography quiz takes a look at land features on Ordnance Survey maps. A map is a representation of part of the surface of the Earth and cartographers have developed many different ways of representing landscape features. Some of these are human made like villages, quarries and power lines, whilst others are natural - valleys, spurs, rivers etc. A lot of these features can be recognised from the symbols used to represent them but to spot others, you need to look closely at the contour lines.

To recognise a valley, the contour lines form a pattern that is either a V shape or a U shape. Next, you need to look at the heights represented by the contour lines. If they get lower as you move away from the closed part of the V or U, then you have a valley. If there is a blue line running down the valley, it contains a stream, otherwise, you have a dry valley.

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Spurs have the same pattern of contour lines as valleys, so this can make things a little tricky. To recognise a spur, look at the closed part of the V or U shape. If the altitude represented by the contour lines is lower towards the closed point of the V or U, then you have a spur. Any streams marked on the spur will leave down the sides and not along its length as a spur is high ground and water will always flow to a low point.

As well as recognising landscape features from an OS map, you could also be asked to identify their characteristics. You need to look closely for any clues, for example, a valley may have a cliff marked along one or both sides or there may be a coniferous woodland there. The closeness of the contour lines can help you as well - the closer they are together, the steeper the slope. Also, if a valley for example has a very wide and flat shape, the V or the U shape of the contour lines will be more difficult to see. With practice, you can soon become used to these ideas.

You can apply the same ideas to hills too. Look carefully at the contour lines that you are presented with in order to determine the shape and steepness of a hill. If the contours are a series of concentric circles or oval shapes, the hill will have uniform slopes all around. Most hills though will have parts that are steeper than others, noted where the contour lines are closer together than in other parts of the hill. If there are two hills together, the contours will show a col (saddle).

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  1. What landscape feature would you be looking at if you saw this pattern of contours on your OS map?
    On OS maps, V-shaped patterns of the contour lines indicate there is a valley
  2. This pattern of contour lines shows:
    The contours are uniformly spaced and more or less circular
  3. A student preparing for fieldwork made several sketches of landscape features they expected to see. This sketch represents:
    Wide blue lines on OS maps represent rivers and where two rivers join is called a confluence
  4. Which of the following statements is correct?
    The clues are that the contour lines show very high ground, contour lines close together, the sharp V-shape of the contour lines and the thin blue line with no meanders showing the stream
  5. This sketch map was made by a geographer carrying out their fieldwork. What landscape feature would be seen in the area indicated by the red ring on the sketch?
    The small black curves are used to indicate and area where there are a lot of surface rocks visible
  6. What landscape feature did the geographer see on the east side of the hill (north is at the top)?
    A scree is a mass of angular unsorted rocks lying on a slope of a hill or mountain or at the base of a cliff. It can also be referred to as talus
  7. What landscape feature would be seen in the area that is outlined in red on this sketch map?
    This is only a small cliff, the contour lines indicate that it is less than 10m in height
  8. This landscape feature is a:
    V-shaped patterns of contour lines indicate spurs or valleys, in this case, the height is lower towards the point of the V-shape therefore it is a spur
  9. This sketch map was prepared for a 1:50,000 scale OS map. The green area on it shows:
    Broadleafed woodland would have small broadleaf trees drawn on it, a conifer woodland would have small pine trees drawn on it. An area of plain green on an OS 1:50,000 map indicates a mixed woodland with both conifers and broadleafed trees
  10. What landscape feature is represented by this sketch taken from an OS map?
    Landscape features include human-made items too

Author: Kev Woodward

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