Mapping Terms Glossary

Written by Stefani Mavrou on

Mapping is an essential tool that has been integral to human exploration, navigation, and understanding of the world for centuries. From ancient civilisations charting trade routes to modern-day digital mapping applications guiding us through unfamiliar streets, maps play a fundamental role in our lives. However, navigating the terminology of mapping can sometimes feel like traversing a complex landscape. In this blog post, we aim to clarify this terminology by providing a comprehensive glossary of mapping terms. Whether you're a professional cartographer, an architect, a GIS analyst, or simply curious about the language of maps, this glossary will serve as a valuable resource, helping you navigate the diverse terrain of mapping terminology.

Glasses sitting on a book

AddressMap: A map specifically designed to display addresses and locations of buildings, streets, and other features within a defined area, often used for navigation and spatial analysis.

Boundary: A line or demarcation that marks the limits or borders of a geographic area, such as the boundary between countries, states, or municipalities.

Buffer: A zone or area around a feature on a map, defined by a specified distance or radius, often used for analysis or visualisation purposes.

Building Heights: Information depicting the vertical dimensions of buildings or structures, typically represented on maps to provide context for urban planning, construction projects, or zoning regulations.

Cartography: The art and science of creating maps, encompassing the design, production, and interpretation of geographical representations.

Coordinate System: A reference framework used to define the positions of points in space, often based on a grid of latitude and longitude lines.

Coordinates: Sets of numerical values used to specify the precise location of a point on the Earth's surface, usually expressed in terms of latitude and longitude or easting and northing.

Contour: A line joining points of equal elevation on a map, representing the shape and elevation of terrain. A comprehensive guide of our 1m contours can be found here.

Datum: A reference point, surface, or system used as a basis for measuring elevations, distances, and other spatial relationships on maps and in geospatial data.

DWG: A file format used for storing two-dimensional and three-dimensional design data, commonly associated with computer-aided design (CAD) software such as AutoCAD.

DXF: A file format used for exchanging CAD drawings between different software applications, facilitating interoperability and compatibility.

Easting: The eastward component of a coordinate in a Cartesian coordinate system, typically used in conjunction with northing to define a location on a map or in geographic space.

Elevation: The height or altitude of a point above a reference surface, such as sea level, often depicted on maps through contour lines, colour shading, or digital elevation models (DEMs).

Equator: The imaginary line that encircles the Earth midway between the poles, representing 0 degrees latitude and dividing the Earth into the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere.

Freehold BoundaryThe demarcation line that delineates the extent of land owned outright by an individual or entity without any time limit on ownership. Unlike leasehold boundaries, which are subject to lease agreements and tenure restrictions, freehold boundaries represent the absolute ownership of land. These boundaries are typically defined in legal documents such as deeds and land titles, providing clarity on property ownership rights and responsibilities.

Geocoding: The process of converting addresses or place names into geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude) for mapping and spatial analysis.

Geographic Metadata: Descriptive information about geographic data, including details about its source, accuracy, projection, and content.

Geographic Information System (GIS): A system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyse, manage, and present spatial or geographic data.

Geofencing: The practise of creating virtual boundaries or perimeters around a geographic area, typically used for location-based services and monitoring.

Georeferencing: The process of assigning geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude) to spatial data, allowing it to be accurately located on a map.

Geospatial: Relating to or denoting data that is associated with a particular location on the Earth's surface, often used in reference to geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial analysis.

Geotagging: The process of adding geographic metadata, such as latitude and longitude coordinates, to digital media such as photos, videos, or social media posts.

GML (Geography Markup Language): An XML-based file format used for encoding geographical data, such as points, lines, and polygons, with attributes and spatial relationships.

Grid: A network of horizontal and vertical lines used to define locations and reference points on a map, providing a systematic framework for spatial analysis and navigation.

Keyhole Markup Language (KML): An XML-based file format used to display geographic data in applications like Google Earth, enabling the visualisation of points, lines, and polygons.

LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging): A remote sensing technology that uses laser pulses to measure distances to the Earth's surface, often used for generating high-resolution terrain models and mapping vegetation.

Latitude: The angular distance of a location north or south of the Earth's equator, measured in degrees, minutes, and seconds.

Legend: A key or explanatory list of symbols used in a map, chart, or diagram to indicate what each symbol represents.

Level: A specific elevation or height above a reference point, often used in mapping and construction to denote floors or storeys within buildings or structures.

Longitude: The angular distance of a location east or west of the prime meridian, measured in degrees, minutes, and seconds.

Map Projection: A systematic method used to represent the Earth's curved surface on a flat map, preserving certain properties such as area, shape, distance, or direction.

Map Scale: The ratio or relationship between distances on a map and corresponding distances on the Earth's surface, expressed as a fraction or ratio.

MasterMap®: A comprehensive digital mapping database maintained by Ordnance Survey in the United Kingdom, containing detailed information about land features, infrastructure, and addresses.

Meridian: A line of longitude running from the North Pole to the South Pole, used as a reference for determining east-west positions on the Earth's surface.

National Tree Map™: A detailed inventory or database of trees within a specific country or region, providing information on species, location, size, and health for urban forestry management and conservation efforts.

Navigation: The process of planning and controlling the movement of a vehicle or vessel from one place to another, often facilitated by maps or other navigational aids.

Node: In a mapping context, a point or entity that represents a specific element within a system, network, or relationship.

Northing: The northward component of a coordinate in a Cartesian coordinate system, used alongside easting to specify a location on a map or in geographic space.

Ordnance Survey: The national mapping agency of Great Britain, responsible for producing and maintaining topographic maps, geographic data, and digital mapping products.

PDF (Portable Document Format): A file format used for presenting and exchanging documents independent of software, hardware, or operating systems, commonly used for distributing maps and documents.

PNG (Portable Network Graphics): A raster image file format commonly used for storing and displaying graphics, including maps and diagrams, with support for transparency and lossless compression.

Projection: A method used to represent the Earth's curved surface on a flat map, preserving certain properties such as area, shape, distance, or direction.

Raster Data: Spatial data represented by a grid of cells, each containing a single value, used to depict continuous phenomena such as elevation or temperature.

Route: A predetermined path or course to be followed from one location to another, typically depicted on a map to assist with navigation.

Scale: The ratio between the size of an object on a map and its actual size on the Earth's surface, often expressed as a fraction or ratio.

Shapefile: A common geospatial vector data format used for storing the location, shape, and attributes of geographic features, such as points, lines, and polygons.

Site Analysis Map: A map designed to evaluate and analyse the characteristics and suitability of a specific site for various purposes, such as urban development, environmental assessment, or land use planning.

Spatial Analysis: The process of examining patterns, relationships, and trends within geographic data to derive meaningful insights and conclusions.

Spatial Database: A database that stores and manages geographic data, allowing for efficient retrieval, analysis, and manipulation of spatial information.

Spatial Visualisation: The process of presenting geographic data in a visual format, such as maps, charts, or graphs, to facilitate analysis and understanding.

Symbol: A graphic representation or icon used on maps to represent features, objects, or phenomena, conveying information about their nature, location, and attributes.

Thematic Map: A map that emphasises a particular theme or topic, such as population density, land use, or climate, using colours, symbols, or other visual elements.

Topography: The arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area, including elevation, terrain, and landforms.

Topographic Map: A detailed and accurate representation of natural and human-made features on the Earth's surface, including contours, elevation, vegetation, and infrastructure.

UPRN (Unique Property Reference Number): A unique identifier assigned to every addressable location in the United Kingdom, facilitating accurate addressing, geocoding, and spatial analysis.

Vector Data: Spatial data represented by points, lines, and polygons, used to depict discrete features such as roads, rivers, and boundaries.

Wayfinding: The process of orienting oneself and navigating through physical spaces, often facilitated by signage, maps, and other visual cues.

Old maps spread on a desk

As we conclude our study of mapping glossary terms, we hope you have gained a better knowledge of the vocabulary used in the area of mapping. By being acquainted with these concepts, we get insight into the complexities of mapmaking and the tools that enable it. Whether you use maps for navigation, research, or entertainment, understanding mapping language improves our capacity to perceive and interact with the world around us. We encourage you to continue researching and learning about maps, since they are still essential tools for comprehending our world.