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About US Topo Maps
Building on the success of 125 years of USGS topographic mapping, the US Topo series is a new generation of maps of the American landscape.
US Topo maps are a graphic representation of The National Map digital data, presented in the familiar USGS quadrangle format. Though modeled on the legacy USGS 7.5-minute topographic maps (circa 1947-1992), they are mass-produced from GIS data, and are published as PDF digital documents instead of primarily as paper documents. US Topo maps can be downloaded free of charge through several interfaces. The GeoPDF® format enables limited geospatial analysis - such as layer selection, reading coordinates, and measuring distances and areas - using free viewers and software tools.
The US Topo production cycle follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Imagery Program's (NAIP) 3-year acquisition cycle so that the latest NAIP aerial imagery forms the base layer of US Topo maps.
Current US Topo map layers include most of the feature classes of a traditional topographic map, plus an orthoimage layer and a shaded relief layer. However, some features shown on traditional topographic maps are still absent from US Topo because suitable data are not currently available. More feature classes are added each year as additional data become available.
The average size of US Topo files is about 25 MB.
US Topo refers specifically to USGS topographic maps published as digital documents in 2009 and later. USGS topographic maps originally published as paper documents in the period 1884-2006 have been scanned and can also be downloaded free of charge through the same interfaces. These maps are now called the Historical Topographic Map Collection.
US Topo Vision:
The US Topo project repackages data from national GIS databases as traditional maps, primarily for the benefit of non-GIS users. Unlike traditional topographic maps, US Topo maps are mass-produced from secondary sources, on a rapid refresh cycle, using the best available data at the time of production.
The first 3-year cycle of US Topo production for the conterminous 48 states was (fiscal years) 2010-11-12, and was completed on schedule in September, 2012. The second 3-year cycle was completed on schedule in September 2015. The USGS is committed to at least one more cycle with the current product, 2016-17-18. Hawaii and Puerto Rico were completed in 2013, and will be part of the regular cycle from now on. Alaska was started in 2013. Alaska map production is driven by collection of new elevation and image data by the Alaska State Digital Mapping Initiative; full coverage of US Topo is projected for 2018.
In 2011, USGS initiated a research project with Pennsylvania State University to help redesign the US Topo so that a wider variety of user-selected layer combinations could be displayed. The recommendations of this research where implemented in mid-2013. A shaded relief layer was added at the same time.
Many additional feature classes have been added over the life of the project, and new and better data sources have been found for others. The challenge has been finding national datasets for all the feature types of a traditional topographic map. See this FAQ for more information about specific layers.
Current US Topo maps contain so many data layers it is usually impractical to display or print them all together. The default display of a US Topo (in Adobe Reader or Acrobat) simulates a traditional topographic line map, but the file contains other data layers that may be turned on by the user.
Improved data and mapping technologies are constantly becoming available to improve display of the data while reducing overall program costs. Project priorities will continue to be maintaining the production cycle and continuous improvements to content and design. Companion products to better serve GIS users are being considered.
Going forward, the US Topo project will be primarily driven by current and anticipated needs of priority user groups. These priority groups, or Communities of Use, are: water resource and flood risk management; geologic mapping; natural hazards; and natural resource conservation. Our challenge will be to balance the needs of these communities, with the needs of users outside these four groups, and do it all with the available project resources.