Reading and Using Maps

Why is color important on a relief map?

A relief map portrays various elevations in different colors. But, a common color scheme found on relief maps causes a problem. On these maps, mountains are displayed as red or brown while lowlands are shown in shades of green. This is confusing because the green areas on the map are often misconstrued as fertile land while brown areas are mistaken for deserts. For example, an area such as California’s Death Valley, which is shown in green on relief maps because it lies below sea level, seems fertile, when actually it is an inhospitable desert.


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