CONTOUR, CONTOUR-LINE (a French word meaning generally "outline," from the Med. Lat. contornare, to round off), in physical geography a line drawn upon a map through all the points upon the surface represented that are of equal height above sea-level. These points lie, therefore, upon a horizontal plane at a given elevation passing through the land shown on the map, and the contour-line is the intersection of that horizontal plane with the surface of the ground. The contour-line of 0, or datum level, is the coastal boundary of any land form. If the sea be imagined as rising 100 ft., a new coast-line, with bays and estuaries indented in the valleys, would appear at the new sea-level. If the sea sank once more to its former level, the 100-ft. contour-line with all its irregularities would be represented by the beach mark made by the sea when 100 ft. higher. If instead of receding the sea rose continuously at the rate of 100 ft. per day, a series of levels 100 ft. above one another would be marked daily upon the land until at last the highest mountain peaks appeared as islands less than 100 ft. high. A record of this series of advances marked upon a flat map of the original country would give a series of concentric contour-lines narrowing towards the mountain-tops, which they would at last completely surround. Contour-lines of this character are marked upon most modern maps of small areas and upon all government survey and military maps at varying intervals according to the scale of the map.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)