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Cartography -
the Art of Making Maps, the Science of Where You Are

Puget Sound Region Maps

In this map of the Puget Sound area, county boundaries are drawn in purple. Coloring the water light blue to makes it easier to see the islands and twisting waterways in the Puget Sound. We've also marked the locations of Olympia (the Washington state capital) and Everett (where the Boeing Company builds 747's).

Activity 1: Sail the Sound

Unlike the false color vegetation map in "Maps of Washington State," this Landsat image of the Puget Sound uses data from only one wavelength (color of light). Lighter colors mean that more light is reflected.

1. Compare the image to the map above and, using the shapes of the islands and harbors of Puget Sound, locate Olympia and Everett in the Landsat Image.

2. Trace a course in the Sound you could take from Everett to Olympia by sailboat.


(In these city images, taken from the full size image (caution: 2Mb!), you can see the larger roads and buildings.)

3. Did you chart the most direct course, or did you take "scenic routes" around an island or two?

Land Use

Scientists using Landsat data can combine the various wavelengths to make a false color image of land use. At this scale, evidence of human activities is easy to see.

The larger image is 112kb.
This image uses a different color scale than the one used to show vegetation.
Color Land Use
Dark green Thick forest
Light green Vegetation
Pinkish Urban areas
Bright blue Ice and snow
The image covers King and Pierce counties; the boundaries of those counties have been added in red.
This outline map shows much the same region as the image above.

Activity 2: Straight Lines and Crooked Lines

Natural process have a level of randomness to them. Consequently, natural boundaries often have complicated lines and surfaces. Shorelines are hardly ever straight and large boulders are usually rough. On the other hand, man-made boundaries are usually straight, unless they are based on natural boundaries, such as rivers. Man made objects, like buildings, are almost always regular and usually rectangular.

Use the Landsat Land Use image and the line map above to answer these questions.

  1. West of Mt. Rainier (see the line map), is a straight boundary with dark green on the east and light green on the west. Do you think this boundary is natural or man-made? If man-made, what human activities do you think occur on each side of this boundary?
  2. In the southeast portion of King County is an area which has a "checkerboard" pattern of dark green and light green/tan. Do you think this is evidence of human activity, and if so, what activity is occurring?


This is a shaded topographic map of western Washington. The colors in this map indicate altitude instead of land cover. A shaded relief map has been added to the color to make it easier to see land forms and for visual appeal. Using a small portion of the full altitude color scale, you can see that the passes east from the low Puget Sound region through the Cascade Mountains to the eastern desert are about 3000 ft high.

The larger image is over 350kb.

Activity 3: Can You Fly Over the Mountains?

Weather in the Puget Sound region is frequently cloudy, especially in the winter months. The bottom of the cloud deck is often around 3000 ft. If the bottom of the cloud deck is not above the passes through the mountains, a small plane pilot must travel south to the Columbia River and then west through the Columbia River Gorge to get to Eastern Washington.
Find out if you could fly a small plane over the Cascade Mountain passes today.
  1. Go to the Purdue University weather processor. Use the interactive map, also available with stations marked, to obtain data every hour of the current day up to the current time, in UT.
  2. Click on the map near Seattle. Where to Click
  3. You will get a written report with current weather like this:
    KSEA 0756  45  44  97 220   7     986 114 2.5   5 OVC R-   52  45
    KSEA 0856  45  42  89 220   9     989 122  10  23 OVC
    IDStation identifierKSEA
    TIMEUniversal time0756, (subtract 7 hours for Pacific time - 4 minutes to 1am)
    TTemperature (degrees Fahrenheit)45 degrees
    TDDew point (degs F)44 degrees
    RHRelative humidity (%)97%
    DIRWind direction (degrees)220 degrees (from the southwest)
    SPDWind speed (miles/hour)7 miles/hour
    GSTGust speed (miles/hour)No gusts
    ALTAltimeter setting (inches of Mercury; add a 2 in front)29.86 inches
    SLPPressure (millibars; add a 10 in fron)1011.4 millibars
    VISVisibility (miles)2.5 miles
    CILCeiling (hundreds of feet)500 feet
    COVCloud cover (overcast, broken, scattered, or clear)overcast
    WXWeatherR- is light rain
    MAXMaximum temperature in past 6 hours52 degrees
    MINMinimum temperature in past 6 hours45 degrees
    PR6Precipitation in the past 6 hoursNone
    PR24Precipitation in the past 24 hoursNone
    SCSnow coverNone

    This report for Seattle tells us that at 0756 UT (00:56 PDT) the temperature was 45 degrees, the dewpoint temperature 44, wind from 220 degrees(SW) at 7 mph with no gusts. The aircraft altimeter setting was 29.86" Hg, (pressure 1011.4 millibars), 2.5 mile visibility, 500 ft overcast, weather (WX) light rain, the max and min temperatures in the preceding 6 hours were 52 and 45, no precipitation in the preceding 6 or 24 hours, and no snowcover.

  4. Determine if the clouds are high enough to fly through the passes. (See the example below if you need help reading the weather observations.)
Example: In the example, the weather in the Puget Sound area is cloudy, with solid clouds at 500 ft just after midnight, and 2300 ft the next hour. The cloud deck is much lower than the mountain passes and you could not fly a small plane over the Cascades except on instruments. Perhaps it got better after the sun rose.

Another source of data for Puget Sound is the Decoded Observations from the Station List from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Seattle.

Zoom down to Maps of the Seattle Area.
Zoom back up to Maps Washington State.

Image Credits

Landsat Color Image - University of Washington GAP Analysis Page.

Topographic map -Color Landform Atlas, copyright and courtesy Ray Sterner, Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory

Line Map - Xerox PARC Map Viewer allows you to view maps of any portion of the Earth.

Landsat photo - USGS EROS Data Center allows you to browse and select images.

Related Information

Written by: Rob Westcott, Hugh Anderson, and Lorraine Johnson.

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Last Modified Fri Jan 24 23:20:10 1997