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Understanding Map Scales

Maps must accurately show distance and location. A map must also be a convenient and usable size. This means that all the information must be shown proportionately smaller than it actually is. This proportion is the "map scale". Scale is the relationship between distances on the map and distances in the 'real world'. Map scales are usually given as a ratio, i.e. 1:100,000. One unit of measurement on the map represents 100,000 of the same unit of measurement on the ground. The first number is always '1' and the second number is different for each scale. "Large is small" or the larger the second number the smaller the scale (detail) of the map.

Most geographical areas have been mapped at different scales. When choosing a map, its intended use should be considered before deciding on which scale to use. For a close view that will give you the most detailed information of a small geographical area, choose a map with a small second number, i.e. 1:100. For a broad general view of a large geographical area you would use a map with a larger second number, i.e. 1:100.000.

Following is a short list of map scales.

Scale 1 Inch on Map Represents: 1 Centimeter on Map Represents:
1:24,000  2,000 feet 240 meters
1:50,000 4,166 feet 500 meters
1:63,360 1 mile 633.6 meters
1:100,000 1.6 miles 1 kilometer
1:250,000 4 miles 2.5 kilometers
1:500,000 8 miles 5 kilometers
1:1,000,000 16 miles 10 kilometers
1:2,000,000 32 miles 20 kilometers

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