Interactive map
World Relief Map
Raster Map Art with Cross-blended Hypsometric Tints

Update: Check out NaturalEarthData.com for a new version of the World Relief Map and matching vector data.

What are cross-blended hypsometric tints?

They offer a partial solution to a long-standing map reading problem: many people misidentify hypsometric tints (elevation colors) as vegetation or climate regions. Conventional hypsometric tints often show green in the lowlands, yellow in mid elevations, and red in the highlands. These map colors incorrectly suggest to the untutored that forests cover the parched Persian Gulf region and a hot desert climate prevails on the Greenland ice cap.

Cross-blended hypsometric tints instead use modified elevation colors for regions that people presumably associate with the natural environment. The Sahara is dusty brown, northern Russia is boreal forest green, the Mekong delta is jungle green, and Antarctica is icy blue-grey. As in nature, the map colors gradually blend into one another across regions (x and y axis) and from lowlands to highlands (z axis), hence the name cross-blended hypsometric tints.

Map legend: Lowland colors in the first three elevation scales (from left) depict generalized environments. Above 1,000 meters the colors are identical and rather conventional. The polar scale uses unrelated colors and is shorter because no peaks exceed 5,000 meters in these regions.

Whether to use cross-blended hypsometric tints depends on your mapping goals. I suspect that cross-blended hypsometric tints are less effective for conveying relative elevation than conventional hypsometric tints. Multiple color scales that merge into one another probably impede the reading of comparitive elevations worldwide.

On the other hand, many maps contain hypsometric tints not because elevation is critically important information but for their pleasing colors. For example, the U.S. Secretary of State, a person not known for having an interest in terrain, gives press briefings with a hypsometric tint world map as a backdrop. The advantage of cross-blended hypsometric tints is a holistic portrayal of our world; readers see places like Kuwait as both lowland and desert. And the colors are telegenic, too.

For more information about cross-blended hypsometic tints visit this website.

Tom Patterson
US National Park Service (Disclaimer)

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