Unit 2 - The Forest Ecosystem

Lesson 4: Topography

Another important factor that determines forest type is topography. Topography describes the physical features of an area of land and includes natural formations such as hills, mountains, valleys, rivers, streams, and lakes.

Artificially created features such as roads, tunnels, towers, and bridges are also a part of the topography of an area.

Topography can have a profound effect on forest development.

For example, on Canada's west coast, proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the interaction of the warm westerly winds with the mountains create the moist, mild conditions vital to the maintenance of the temperate rain forest ecosystem of British Columbia.

Warm, humid, westerly winds moving inland from the Pacific Ocean strike the coastal mountains, forcing the winds to rise.
As the winds rise, the water in the air condenses in the colder, higher elevations. This results in either rain or snow on the west side of the mountains.

Because this area is so moist, forest fires are rare. Forests in this type of ecosystem tend to be ancient, "old-growth forests". However, human activity has decreased many old-growth forests both on Canada's west coast, and elsewhere in the world.


Topographical maps are used for a number of applications, from camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking to urban planning, resource management, and surveying.

The National Topographic System (NTS) provides general-purpose topographic map coverage of Canada. These maps depict, in detail, ground relief (landforms and terrain), drainage (lakes and rivers), forest cover, administrative areas, populated areas, transportation routes and facilities, including roads, railways and other constructed features.
The maps use data from the Atlas of Canada (1: 1 000 000 to 1:30 000 000), National Topographic Data Base 1:250 000 and CanVec 1:50 000.

Toporama continues to provide topographic information from national to regional scales.

     Digging Deeper


If you are interested in learning more about topographical maps, click here.