How Do You Classify Maps Based on Function?

Maps can be split into many, many different categories, all based on various criteria. However, function is probably the most practical way of classifying these geographical tools, splitting maps up into about 4 primary distinctions:

  • Physical
  • Geological
  • Political
  • Thematic

Each of these play a vital role in describing the world around us and enable experts to better plan for environmental challenges, properly administrate and manage districts, understand trends/changes in various features or figures, and more. However, while they all work together to help us understand our planet, every one is separate and distinctive, dealing with completely different information in a myriad of unique forms.

Want to learn more about classifying maps based on function and what these categories cover? Continue reading below!

Physical Maps

Out of all the map classifications, physical ones are possibly some of the most basic yet diverse. As hinted by their name, these maps contain information about the physical makeup of a specified area or region, focusing on natural characteristics rather than those that are manmade.

Geological details, soil types, vegetation, drainage features, and terrain are just a few of the things you can expect represented on a physical map, intended to assist with navigation and identification of our mountain ranges, bodies of water, and landscapes.

Because the terrain is a major inclusion found on these maps, many physical maps also happen to be relief maps - or 3D representations of a landscape - allowing for increased attention to detail and an improved understanding of a space’s elevation and contours.

Geologic Maps

Geological maps are an especially specific type of map. Meant to showcase the composition of the materials and deposits resting on the Earth’s surface, these 2D representations display areas of rock, minerals, and other deposits that we can see. This is typically done through the use of color-coding or fill patterns, which allows us to see the distribution of geologic data in a quick, efficient, and easy-to-understand way.

Wondering why though? Geological maps actually happen to be incredibly useful for land-use planning, resource protection, and geohazard prevention, keeping us safer and our government better able to react to any issues that may arise.

Political Maps

Out of all the others, political maps are a bit of the odd ones out. Contrary to what you might expect from their title, they don’t just represent data connected to politics or political divides. Instead, political maps are largely those that are meant to share how the world is divided up into countries, states, regions, cities, and so on. So, that world map you remember stuck to the wall of your high school geography class? That was a prime example of a political map.

In this way, political maps are, oddly enough, among the most common maps most of us will come across in our daily lives. There is one big thing to note, however. While political maps contain much of the content we expect from any regular old map we come across, they don’t cover the physical features of the land - just the politically-divided regions.

Powerful, isn’t it? By using maps to study these sorts of population and geographical events, we manage to also study who we are as a species. We can visualize our history, see where we came from, where we’re going, how we’ve changed, and in the end, what’s important to us!

Thematic Maps

If you’ve been paying attention (to this article and our others), then you’ll probably notice there’s a lot of overlap between map types. But thematic maps really take the cake. This is because they are essentially just an umbrella term for any map that has a more particular, niche theme. Climatic, cultural, population, economic, transportation - all of these fall under this category, just to give you an idea of how broad the term is.

For as vague as thematic maps may be, they’re also remarkably important. Diving deeper into a specific geographically-related topic and highly customizable to what one needs, thematic maps fill in the gaps left behind by other, more general maps. They might not be as useful to the general public at large, but they do certainly ensure that those who need certain information - whether it be migration patterns, demographics, or typical weather data - can access it.