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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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 Its use these days is limited by a number of factors that include weather conditions, topography and, not the least, communities that have expanded into high-threat fire areas. San Diego Union-Tribune, 1 Sep. 2021 Researchers who studied the topography and mineral composition of the region made the discovery, and the news was published in a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in July 2021. Julia Musto, Fox News, 19 Sep. 2021 Factors that affect air quality in a particular area include weather conditions, wind patterns, topography and what sources of pollution there are in the area, including the amount of industrial activity. Yoohyun Jung, San Francisco Chronicle, 5 Aug. 2021 For nearly a decade, scientists at Monterey Bay’s Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have studied the topography and ecology of Sur Ridge, an underwater expanse the size of Manhattan located 37 miles off the coast of California. Ewan Morgan, Smithsonian Magazine, 28 June 2021 Tornadoes are normally rare in the Northeast because of topography and atmospheric conditions. Melissa Griffin, ABC News, 2 Sep. 2021 The oldest of the bunch, Jack Rabbit is a terrain coaster that uses the natural topography of a ravine. Arthur Levine, USA TODAY, 16 Aug. 2021 Once again, the topography of what is now Midlothian Meadows played a role, at least according to the contemporary account. Paul Eisenberg,, 15 Aug. 2021 Scottish jeweler is heavily inspired by the topography and history of her homeland and the organic texture of this gold-cast bangle reflects the power and strength of the Scottish Highlands. Kate Matthams, Forbes, 12 June 2021

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

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

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Last Updated

16 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Topography.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for topography



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

More from Merriam-Webster on topography

Nglish: Translation of topography for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of topography for Arabic Speakers


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