to·​pog·​ra·​phy | \ tə-ˈpä-grə-fē How to pronounce topography (audio) \

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 Researchers also have a good idea of why this terrain is so prone to collapse: Every year, rivers dump huge amounts of sediment into the Gulf, causing this loose material to pile up quickly on the seafloor and create steep, unstable topography. National Geographic, "Underwater landslides in the Gulf of Mexico, 2008-2015," 19 May 2020 An international team of scientists used imagery and topography captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera to study a rim of the Hellas Basin in Mars' southern hemisphere. Ashley Strickland, CNN, "Evidence of ancient rivers spotted on Mars, study says," 5 May 2020 Use your mapping app to quickly check the topography around the gobbler. Jim Spencer, Outdoor Life, "Float a River to Find a Turkey Hunting Hotspot," 4 May 2020 Countries in the Sahel are not helped by climate and topography. The Economist, "The forever wars Parts of Africa will remain unstable for decades," 26 Mar. 2020 Its Caloris Basin, a 950-mile-long impact crater, lies on the exact opposite side of the world, or antipode, to a geologic pandemonium of shattered rock and maddeningly undulating topography. Robin George Andrews, Scientific American, "Collision on One Side of Pluto Ripped Up Terrain on the Other, Study Suggests," 26 Mar. 2020 Hikers kept their distance, giving each other a wide berth on the sandy trails, but only as much as the density of people and the shifting topography allowed. Sunset Magazine, "I Stopped Hiking Because of Covid-19. Here’s Why.," 23 Mar. 2020 The seafloor topography then moves the water along deep channels. Ula Chrobak, Popular Science, "Greenland’s ice sheet is melting in more ways than we thought," 6 Feb. 2020 Typical problems one finds with building sites include wrong orientation to the sun and sloping topography. James Dulley, Dallas News, "How to evaluate and select a building lot," 26 Jan. 2020

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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Time Traveler for topography

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for topography

Last Updated

30 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Topography.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for topography


How to pronounce topography (audio)

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 How to pronounce topography (audio) \
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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