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June 16, 2008

Better Terrain Representation in Google Maps

Mehmet K. noticed an update of the terrain layer from Google Maps, a feature that lets you view physical features, such as mountains and vegetation, with elevation shading.
The fairly recent "terrain" feature in Google Maps now plots contours as well as hill shading. The only problem that I can see is that the contours are in feet in the UK whereas feet are only really used in the States. Even in the UK where we still use miles for our roads, looking at familiar hill heights in feet is very off putting. When I looked at other countries (Kenya) the heights there were in meters.

"Contour lines are lines drawn on a map connecting points of equal elevation. If you walk along a contour line you neither gain or lose elevation." The other method used for representing terrain, "hill shading is a computer based mapping technique that shades each area of the surface to proportional to the amount of light that would be reflected off the surface from a light source at a specified location, usually to the northwest of the area of interest. Hill shading produces a planimetrically correct map that looks like a three-dimensional view of the surface."

Back in April, Google's geo blog mentioned some practical uses for these features. "Now, at a glance you can see the height of the world's peaks, or plan your next camping trip. Contour lines can even help you find a flatter bike route for your daily commute, which is key if you live in a city like Seattle."


  1. Agghhhhh!!

    Why do 'Merkins keep doing this to us? Just because they call their measures "English" doesn't mean that Feet and Fahrenheit are still used in Britain.

    Anyway, back when we used such measures we called them Imperial, not English. Ah, perhaps that explains what they're doing.

  2. Maps layer has been updated in Kenya and in France last week.

  3. If Google wants to help people with bike commutes, where the heck is the "bike" option when planning routes in Google Maps? You know, next to "Drive" and "Public Transit". Add one that incorporates bike paths already. In fact, hire me to help work on it! I don't want to just complain about it :)

  4. Could be interesting draw hiking trails with this terrain representation.

  5. I don't know the demographics of this blogs readership, but I can assure you that feet and farenheit are very much in daily use in blighty, despite best attempts at their elimination.

  6. It would be nice if we could download google maps with contour and hiking trails to a smart phone with GPS capabilities (blackberries and iPhone).

  7. Why doesn't the 'Terrain' feature give the 'Contour Interval'? ( elevation difference between adjacent contour lines ).

    Am trying to locate the best of a dozen or so local sledding hills.

  8. An alternative to the contour intervals would be to apply the deformed grid technique. Particularly if you could fly through or change your
    perspective point.
    This was done a few years ago for the Tour de France and was really cool.
    I would like to know the countour interval for things like calculating
    the actual grade of roads I had climbed by bicycle.

  9. Google Maps:
    Has anyone noticed the loss of "labels" (Names for rivers and streams) when you zoom-in on a particular area?. Last month this feature was working fine; now this feature in gone. I have submitted my question twice to Google Map "Help" but not even a "Thank you for your response".

  10. PatricktheRogue says:
    For all the reasons noted by Google above, terrain maps were great. I repeat WERE. Google has now removed the terrain map feature from Google Maps. It was very useful for any number of things. But now it's gone - and I can't complain to Google to tell them how great is WAS, because they don't take feedback. Well, it was good while it lasted. Hopefully Google will hear the cries of protest, at least mine, and bring it back!

  11. Force Google Maps Terrain mode this way:

  12. Google Maps terrain is available. Not sure when the added it back.