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Geographical Skills Cheat Sheet by

Spatial distri­bution and associ­ation

The most common patterns formed are known as linear, scattered and clustered.
Linear distri­bution: eg. lined along the coast
Scattered distri­bution: eg. central Australia
Clustered distri­bution: eg. large urban settle­ments
Geogra­phers also compare the distri­bution patterns of geogra­phical features and look for connec­tions between them.

Thematic maps

Enviro­nment maps
Enviro­nment maps show the natural features of the Earth such as land cover, mountains, rivers, deserts, lakes, seas and oceans. They also show urban areas and cropland.
Physical maps
Physical maps show the natural features of the Earth such as mountains, rivers, deserts, lakes, seas and oceans. They also show the height of the land and depth of the sea by using different colours.
Cadastral maps
Political maps show the human features of the Earth such as country, state and territory borders, cities and towns.
Dot distri­bution maps
Dot distri­bution maps use dots to represent a single feature. The dots show the location of the chosen features, are the size and colours of the dots can show different charac­ter­istics of that feature. When combined on a map, the dots form a spatial pattern.
Synoptic charts
Weather maps show conditions in the atmost­phere such as air pressure, wind speed and wind direction. They also show the size and location of warm and cold fronts.
Choropleth maps
Choropleth maps use different shades of the same colour to give a quick impression of the data being shown. Darker shades show the highest values while lighter shades show the lowest values or least amounts.
Flow maps
Flow maps show movement from one place to another. These maps are useful for showing the movement of goods, migration of people and animals, and transport and commun­ica­tions. Often the number of people or goods is shown by using lines of different widths or colours.
Isoline maps
Isoline maps use lines to join places of equal value for a given feature:
isobars = air pressure
isohyets = rainfall
isotherms = temper­ature
contours = height above sea level
isobaths = depth below see level

Grid references

The vertical lines are called eastings and are numbered towards the east. The horizontal lines are called northings and are numbered towards the north.
In defining a 6-figure grid reference, the first three digits refer to the eastings and the last three digits to the northings.
The first two digits refer to the numbers on the grid lines; the third digit is obtained by dividing the grid square into tenths.
Eastings are always stated before the northings. The six digits are given without any spaces, commas or full stops.

Latitude and longitude

Lines that run from east to west are referred to as latitude and lines that run from north to south are called longitude.
The equator is 0o and the lines are numbered according to their distance north and south of this line.
The Tropic of Cancer is located at 23o 30'N and the Tropic of Capricorn is located at 23o 30'S.
The Arctic Circle is located at 66o 30'N and the Antarctic Circle at 66o 30'S.
The lines of longitude are called meridians.
Each degree is further divided into 60 minutes to make measur­ement even more accurate.
In 1884 the Royal Geogra­phical Society met in Greenwich, London and establ­ished a common system, with 0o longitude (Prime Meridian) centred on Greenwich.

The meridians of longitude meet at 180o, which is the Intern­ational Date Line.

Topogr­aphic mapping

Contour lines (or isolines) are lines that join together points of equal height above sea level.
The height between contour lines is called the contour interval.
When contours are close together, this indicates that the land is steep. When they are far apart, this means the land is flatter.
Cross-­sec­tions can be constr­ucted across contour lines revealing the shape of the land in profile.
Round hill or volcano: concentric rings
Valley: sets of contour lines converging
Ridge: oval-like contour lines
Spur: sharp and obtrusive contour lines
Cliff: sudden close contour lines
Plateau: no contour lines near centre

Key Concepts

Enviro­nment: the product of physical processes such as geolog­ical, atmosp­heric, hydrol­ogical, geomor­phic, biotic processes as well as human influe­nces.
Change: any alteration to the natural or human aspects of places and enviro­nments over time and space (long term and short term).
Interc­onn­ection: the way that people and/or geogra­phical phenomena are connected to each other through natural processes and human activi­ties.
Sustai­nab­ility: human activities being managed in a way that ensure an enviro­nment can be maintained in the long term.

Gross Na­tional Pr­oduct

noun: the total value of goods produced and services provided by a country during one year, equal to the gross domestic product plus the net income from foreign invest­ments.


There are four ways of stating scale:
Scale statement, eg. one centimetre represents 100,000 cm or 1 km.
Repres­ent­ative fracti­on/­ratio, eg: 1/100 000 or 1:100 000
Linear­/Line scale
Local scale - i.e. a local park, suburb, town or rural area
Regional scale - i.e. a larger geogra­phical area
National scale - i.e. a single country
Intern­ational scale - i.e. two or more countries around the world
Global scale - i.e. the entire planet

Mapping skills

A map is a graphic repres­ent­ation of a part of the earth's surface, drawn to scale.

STEEPH (SHEEP) factors

Social: population size, dynamics, education, health, living condit­ions, crime, cultural, language, religion, workforce, ethnicity, class and gender.
Techno­logical: techno­logy, skills, crafts and knowledge.
Economic: wealth, profits, employ­ment, invest­ment, exports, trade balances, debt, taxes, currency, exchange rates, inflation, Gross National Product, wages and the costs of commod­ities and services.
Enviro­nmental: urban spaces, transport facili­ties, infras­tru­cture, biosphere, atmosp­here, lithos­phere, hydros­phere, climate, rocks, minerals, soil, air, landforms, flora and fauna.
Political: laws, policies, regula­tions, tariffs, taxes, zoning, government controls, treaties and trade embargoes.
Historical: those factors which may not be operating today, but have occured in the past and have left a lasting impact.

Direction and bearings

North, south, east and west are called the cardinal points. The points that give us a more specific indication of direction are the interm­edi­ate­/su­b-c­ardinal points.
True north: is the direction towards the earth's geographic North Pole.
Magnetic north: is the direction in which the magnetic compass needle points.
Grid north: is the direction of the vertical lines on a topogr­aphic map.
Compass bearings can also be used to state the direction of one place from another. They are calculated by measuring the angle, from the north, between the two points.
The bearing is calculated from a straight line constr­ucted from the point of reference towards north, read in a clockwise direction. Due north is zero degrees.
Direction should be expressed in lower case unless part of a proper noun. It can be abbrev­iated to capitals in geographic media or when stating latitude and longitude, but should be expressed in complete form in text.

Defining location

Absolute location can be given as grid reference coordi­nates, in latitude and longitude or as an address.
More commonly, location is expressed as a relative location from another feature such as a capital, the CBD or the nearest post office, or adjoining countries, seas or oceans, or the direction within a general region.
To describe the location of a place accurately it is good to use a combin­ation of these methods.

Distri­bution vocabulary



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