Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Contour Maps
Name: Lyndora
Status: Educator
Age: 30s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 

My daughter needs to make a map or model of a mountain using contour lines. please give anu suggestions.


Your daughter could draw a topographic map of the mountain. Some topographic maps are available on the internet. Go to and enter the mountain name.

Another technique is a relief map. Use pieces of thin cardboard (like what is used at the back of a pad of paper) and cut them out along contours, like every 500 feet. Paste these on top of each other to get a relief map of the mountain. Use a topographic map to trace the shape of each 500 foot contour and to align the layers correctly.

David Cook
Argonne National Laboratory

Hi Lyndora,

I'm not exactly sure what your request means. If your daughter needs to make a map of a mountain with contour lines, she needs a data set from which to construct it, for example a fairly tight grid with altitudes given for each intersection point. Then it almost becomes an exercise of connect the dots, all the points at 100 ft become one contour, 150 ft another, etc etc. There is some art to it, because the actual data points will be random heights, e.g. 95, 113, 142, so you have to draw your lines between points, e.g. your 100 ft contour likely runs a little closer to the 95 ft point than the 113, but goes between them.

If she already has a contour map, then she can construct a rough model, much like architecture students do. You can enlarge a contour map by xerox or overhead projector, and trace the contour lines onto foam core board. Each successive contour height becomes one layer. Cut out the contour shape. Each layer should have that contour plus the next higher contour so that you can line them up. Stack up the layers, and you have a 3-d model of the mountain. The polystyrene foam sheets for meat packages can work for cutting out a really small model, or thin sheets of foam insulation from a home improvement center can work too if you want a bigger scale.

Hope that helps.

Donald Yee Ph.D.

Find an object that has a contour like a mountain. Some shells, figurines of frogs, or other objects will do. The object should not float in water. Place this object into a shallow tub or pail. Place a transparent material across the top of the tub. Plastic sheeting works well, and should be taped to one side of the tub. Trace the outline of the object (in projection) onto the plastic. Add water to the tub to a depth of 1.0 cm (look from the side, or have a ruler in the tub). Draw the new contour line around the object. Once again, fill to 2.0 cm. Continue to draw the contours at each interval until the object is totally submerged. What you have is a 1.0 cm contour map of the object.

I hope this helps!

Nathan A. Unterman

Click here to return to the Environmental and Earth Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory