Creating simple topographic profiles

Creating Simple Topographic Profiles

Pontypridd Profile

Pontypridd Profile

In this post, David Caplin illustrates a simple way of capturing topographic profiles using free, online tools. 

Topographic Profiles are a very good visual way of representing a section of terrain. There are a number of different uses for topographic profiles in Geography. In terms of Coastal Management, they can be easily used to illustrate how the coastline has changed under the presence of erosion or deposition.

There are a number of ways of producing profiles, and which one to use largely depends on what you actually want to use it for!

If you just want a simple profile, for a river valley, for example, or cross-section of a mountain range, you don’t need mm level accuracy and up-to-date data, you just need a general overview of the terrain. A brilliant tool for this is the HeyWhatsThat Path Profiler tool.

Hey What's That Path Profiler Tool

Hey What’s That Path Profiler Tool

The Path Profiler tool is very simple to use. It has a Google Maps Interface, and by left clicking on the map, you can create points on the map. A line will be drawn between the two points and the profile drawn automatically in the little window above it. Here is an example of it:

Example of a line drawn on HeyWhatsThat Path Profiler tool

Example of a line drawn on HeyWhatsThat Path Profiler tool

If we want to have a look at the valley profile in this section of the Taff Valley in South Wales, we can drop our two points either side of the valley, and the profile is generated from that transect:

Pontypridd Profile

Pontypridd Profile

You can customize the display of it through the settings on the page, for example changing units. The profile can be copied/pasted or saved for further use.

Now, this is a really quick and simple tool for producing profiles, but it is neither up-to-date nor especially customisable. If you’re looking for something that is much more customisable, and able to use the latest data, you’re going to need to use a fully-fledged GIS package, such as QGIS.

By David Caplin

Lecturer in Agriculture
Bridgend College


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