Ministry of Environment


Terrain Mapping Overview

  1. What is terrain mapping?
  2. What does a terrain map look like?
  3. What is included in the terrain report?
  4. How is terrain mapping done?
  5. Who is qualified to do terrain mapping?
  6. How is terrain information used?
  7. More information about terrain mapping
  8. Roles and responsibilities
  9. Glossary of terrain related terms

1.) What is terrain mapping?

Terrain mapping is a classification system that describes the characteristics and spatial distribution of surficial materials, landforms and geomorphological processes.

There are generally three types of terrain mapping projects currently conducted in the province of BC:

  1. Terrain inventory mapping
  2. Terrain stability mapping
  3. Bioterrain mapping

See 'Types of Terrain Mapping' for more information on the types of terrain mapping including comparisons and examples.

There are also several other types of mapping that contain information related or similar to terrain information including: soils and landforms maps, surficial geology maps, and soils maps. These map types are also managed by the terrain custodian.

Other related specialty projects include snow avalanche track mapping, landslide inventory mapping, landslide hazard mapping, geological hazard mapping, glacial terrain feature maps or other themes to support particular information needs. Submission of data for these latter project types to the BC government is not currently required; however FIA funded projects must be submitted to the terrain data custodian.

2.) What does a terrain map look like?

Terrain maps contain polygons (defined irregularly shaped areas), labels
and on-site symbols overlain on a topographic base. A terrain map is accompanied by a legend that explains the terrain linework, labels and symbols and summarizes other project information such as the terrain mapper(s), the cartographer(s), related reports and datasets, basemap information, and scale. Original hard copies of the terrain map will be signed and sealed by the registered professional terrain mapper who completed the project.

3.) What is included in the terrain report?

The terrain report includes information about the project and is an important reference and a guide to understanding the information in the terrain map and how it should be used. Typical sections found in a terrain report are: executive summary, introduction, purpose/objectives, review of previous work, study area description (including physiography), methodology, reliability/limitations, results, discussion/recommendations, references, field data, photographs with captions, and legend.

4.) How is terrain mapping done?

Procedures for terrain mapping projects include the following steps:

  1. Project planning
  2. Review of existing information and previous work
  3. Preliminary air photo/image interpretation of draft polygon linework and terrain symbols (polygon attributes).
  4. Field work (to confirm/ground truth preliminary mapping)
  5. Revision and finalization of the mapping on the air photos/images
  6. Digitization, database creation and map production
  7. Report writing
  8. Sign-off and delivery of final products
  9. Quality assurance review/audit

Internal quality control and assurance procedures should be incorporated throughout the mapping process. An external audit or quality assurance review can also be conducted by the client or a third party to ensure final products fulfil all contract requirements (including consistency with terrain mapping standards). An audit of the final deliverables may be done by the client or by PricewaterhouseCoopers if FIA funding is involved.

5.) Who is qualified to do terrain mapping?

Terrain mapping is done by qualified professional terrain mappers who are in good standing with their professional governing body in the province of BC and who have the skills and education required to complete terrain mapping. Qualified professionals are typically geologists, geoscientists, soil scientist, geological engineers or geographers with relevant mapping experience and expertise. GIS technicians are also involved in terrain mapping projects and play a critical role in capturing the mapping data into digital formats consistent with digital standards and requirements. Other key players in a terrain mapping project include the organizational client for whom the mapping is completed (commonly a forest sector company or other client operating on the land base) the provincial terrain data custodian, funding bodies such as FIA, and other users of the terrain data.

See also: Terrain Mapper Skill Set

See also: Roles and Responsibilities

6.) How is terrain information used?

Terrain inventory mapping is used for a variety of purposes including but not limited to:

  • ecosystem mapping
  • terrain stability mapping used to manage landslide risk to values such as water quality, high value habitat, timber resources, utilities and infrastructure, human life and limb, etc. Used to plan forest road and cutblock location.
  • erosion potential mapping used to manage risk of sedimentation to values such as water quality, fish habitat, wildlife habitat
  • aggregate resources
  • till prospecting
  • terrain hazards and constraints
  • research
  • parent materials for soil classification
  • watershed assessment
  • environmental impact studies
  • geological hazard mapping and geological risk assessment
  • regional planning (e.g., zoning for Official Community Plans, Regional District Land Use Plans and Land and Resource Management Plans)

7.) More information about terrain mapping

Understanding terrain information is critical to the proper use of terrain maps. A User’s Guide to Terrain Stability Mapping in BC (PDF 677KB)provides information relevant to understanding all types of terrain maps including terrain inventory and bioterrain mapping. It also has a comprehensive description of terrain stability mapping.

8.) Roles and Responsibilities

Many players involved directly or indirectly in a terrain mapping project (including the mapper, client, government, professional associations, and terrain information users) have roles and responsibilities related to the creation, storage and use of terrain information. See 'Roles and Responsibilities' for a summary of the roles and responsibilities of the main groups involved in terrain mapping.

9.) Glossary of terrain related terms

Glossary of terms