Map Reading: An Introduction

  • 06/24/2020
  • 3:00 PM
  • 07/15/2020
  • 4:00 PM
  • Online via Zoom

Map Reading: An Introduction

Wednesdays, June 24-July 15, 3-4pm 
Online via Zoom

Length: 4 weeks, 1 hour per week
Cost: $39

Maps are used for both professional and recreational purposes. This course is aimed at anyone who would like to understand how maps are created and, mostly, to understand how to decrypt the information on a map. We will analyze the basics of maps and how we can “read” them to understand their meaning.

Concepts including scale, symbols, and coordinates will be explained with practical examples of maps based mostly on the ones used in the US. Electronic cartography, GPS navigation and GIS are other important tools that supplement the traditional printed maps. Their basic notion and applications will be illustrated.

Finally, some specific maps for the island of Martha’s Vineyard will be used as examples so to link the learning experience to our territory.


  • What is a map: simplified and scaled representation of the environment.
  • Some history of cartography: the evolution of maps through the centuries.
  • Basic principles of cartography: spheroid, geographic grid, datum.
  • Geographic projections: how to put a tridimensional sphere on a flat surface.
  • Scale of maps: the ratio between dimensions on terrain and on map.
  • Coordinate systems: common coordinate systems and their use
  • Using the map: how we can actually use a map on the terrain.
  • Orienting the map.
  • Navigation using a map.


  • Contour lines: how we can represent 3D features on a flat surface.
  • Contour lines and terrain features: reading the contour lines provides information on the elevation trend of the area.
  • Basic calculations on a map: elevation, distance, slope, area, volume.
  • Profiles: from contour lines to vertical elevation.
  • Examples of different landscapes: topographic maps show characteristic features in function of the typology of represented terrain.


  • USGS topographic maps: the most common maps in the US.
  • Examples of USGS topographic maps: Practical examples of maps.
  • Thematic and special maps: specific topics can be illustrated by specific maps: Qualitative thematic maps, Quantitative thematic maps, Aerial images and Orthophotomaps, Examples of thematic maps.
  • FEMA maps: how maps can be used to protect the territory.
  • Nautical maps: maps specifically designed for navigation.
  • Raised-relief maps: how to enhance the terrain elevation.
  • Block-diagrams: a 3D rendering of the terrain including the sub-surface.
  • Maps errors: limits and mistakes of the maps.


  • Satellite positioning (GPS): the use of satellites as aids to navigation and positioning. Include: Satellite constellations, 3D positioning, GPS systems.
  • Geographic Information System (GIS): computer-assisted cartography.
  • US Topo and GeoPDF: multi-layers digital maps with basic GIS capacities.
  • Digital terrain models: generation of tridimensional terrain representation.

About the instructor

Dr. Giorgio Caramanna is a geologist with more than twenty years of experience in research and teaching at the university level. He moved to the Vineyard in 2015 and lives here with his wife and son. He is currently a consultant for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and runs his own
consulting firm, Geo Aqua Consulting in the field of geology research and associated technical support.

Cost for Course: $39



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MV Builders Association

PO Box 290

Vineyard Haven, MA 02568

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