to·​pog·​ra·​phy | \tə-ˈpä-grə-fē \

Definition of topography 

1a : the art or practice of graphic delineation in detail usually on maps or charts of natural and man-made features of a place or region especially in a way to show their relative positions and elevations

b : topographical surveying

2a : the configuration of a surface including its relief and the position of its natural and man-made features

b : the physical or natural features of an object or entity and their structural relationships the topography of human chromosomes the political topography of our time

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Did You Know?

Topography combines top- with graph-, a root meaning "write" or "describe". The topography of the Sahara Desert features shifting sand dunes and dry, rocky mountains. A topographic (or topo) map not only shows the surface features of a region but also indicates the contours and approximate altitude of every location, by means of numerous curving lines, each indicating a single elevation. In other words, it shows a "three-dimensional" picture on a two-dimensional surface. Topo maps are commonly used by hikers, surveyors, government workers, and engineers, among other people.

Examples of topography in a Sentence

a map of the topography of the coastline shows a significant loss of wetlands

Recent Examples on the Web

The West End seems quite separate from Downtown, divided by Central Parkway or I-75 and with a very different urban topography. Polly Campbell,, "Bars and restaurants near West End pretty OK with a stadium, unsurprisingly. Where will fans go?," 25 Jan. 2018 Fire officials said the county has become fire prone because of its topography: mostly mountainous with brush and forests that have in some places been left dry and dead by years of drought. Jim Carlton, WSJ, "Giant Wildfires Become Way Of Life in One Northern California County," 1 July 2018 The problem is that the spatial resolution of this model is too coarse to include a detailed representation of the topography of Aphrodite Terra. Scott K. Johnson, Ars Technica, "Huge wave in Venus’ clouds changes the length of a day," 22 June 2018 Historically, Luzerne County has seen a slightly higher fraction of its tornadoes achieve EF2 strength compared with Pennsylvania overall, possibly because of a greater moisture streaming in from the Atlantic or the effects of local topography. Matthew Cappucci, Washington Post, "Striking in the dark of night, the Wilkes-Barre tornado was a freak," 15 June 2018 The escarpment is prone to landslides because of its topography, and some areas are more vulnerable than others. Andrew Carter And Bruce Henderson, charlotteobserver, "NC dropped program to map landslide hazards. Could it have prevented the latest deaths?," 31 May 2018 And the topography of the state is flatter than a lot of places. Dug Begley, Houston Chronicle, "Hyperloop's first step bypasses Houston," 11 July 2018 The nature of the land surface and the topography are equally critical. Jeff Halverson, Washington Post, "The second 1,000-year rainstorm in two years engulfed Ellicott City. Here’s how it happened.," 28 May 2018 The craggy topography of Elysian Park has long presented a challenge to transportation planners and Dodgers fans alike. Bill Shaikin,, "A gondola from Union Station to Dodger Stadium? It could happen by 2022, Mayor Garcetti says," 26 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'topography.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of topography

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for topography

Middle English topographie, from Late Latin topographia, from Greek, from topographein to describe a place, from topos place + graphein to write — more at carve

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15 Nov 2018

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The first known use of topography was in the 15th century

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English Language Learners Definition of topography

: the art or science of making maps that show the height, shape, etc., of the land in a particular area

: the features (such as mountains and rivers) in an area of land


to·​pog·​ra·​phy | \tə-ˈpäg-rə-fē \
plural topographies

Medical Definition of topography 

1 : the physical or natural features of an object or entity and their structural relationships the topography of the abdomen the topography (size and fluorescent staining intensity) of human chromosomesScience News

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to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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