The Relationship Among Relief, Drainage, Vegetation, Land Use, Communication and Settlement

Ensure that you have accessed the material about describing drainage, vegetation, land use, communication and settlement before you continue. When analyzing your map, you will be expected to be able to determine how these factors affect or are affected by each other. Scan your map carefully. Some of your knowledge from other areas in the syllabus will be useful here. As always, your key will also be useful. Here are some of the relationships you may notice when analyzing a map or a section of a map:

The Influence of Relief

The term relief refers to the variations in elevation and slope of an area of the earth’s surface. When we say that an area is flat, gently sloping or mountainous, we are speaking about the relief of the area. Relief is major influence in many aspects of our lives including the climate and where we choose to live. On a map you may be able to see how relief affects:


Relief affects the way water flows. On steep slopes water flows quickly, cutting downwards and creating steep sided V-shaped valleys. In areas with a gentle slope rivers flow slowly and meanders are common. There is more lateral erosion and valleys are wider. In areas that are flat or nearly flat, there may be swampy or marshy areas where water collects. 


Very steep slopes are difficult to settle or cultivate. Therefore natural vegetation is usually allowed to thrive on these slopes. Can you see any forested areas or other natural vegetation on steep slopes? Sometimes there are areas of small scale cultivation on steep slopes. 

Often, in gently sloping or flat areas, the natural vegetation has been cleared away so the land can be used for other purposes. There may be some large scale commercial agriculture in these areas.


It is easier to build in flat or gently sloping areas. Major settlements such as towns and cities are usually located in these areas. These settlements are major residential and commercial areas. Also hospitals, schools, churches and recreational facilities (among other things) are often located in these settlements. Steep slopes are often sparsely populated or even uninhabited. Can you see this pattern on your map?


Major roads are usually built in flat or gently sloping areas where possible. It is more difficult to build roads on steep or rugged terrain. When roads are built on steep slopes they tend to zigzag their way up the slope with many sharp bends. On steep slopes you may find smaller minor roads. In some rugged or mountainous regions you may find areas with footpaths or tracks but no roads. Look for these patterns when analyzing your map.

Land Use

Generally it is more difficult to build on steep slopes. Natural vegetation and wildlife are often able to thrive in these areas. These areas are often uninhabited or sparsely populated and there may be some small scale agriculture.

In flat or gently sloping areas, the natural vegetation has often been cleared away so the land can be used for other purposes. Large settlements like towns or cities are usually found in flatter areas. Large scale commercial agriculture, such as growing sugarcane, often takes place in flat or gently sloping areas. Recreational or sporting facilities, such as football or cricket stadiums, are often built on land which is flat or almost flat.


The Influence of Drainage

Drainage is another major factor which influences many aspects of life. The influence of drainage can often be seen on a map since drainage may impact:


Large settlements are often located near rivers. Many major cities and towns in the Caribbean (and in other parts of the world) have a river running right through them. Water from these rivers is often used to supply these settlements with water. Also sometimes you may see linear settlements along the banks of rivers.

Poorly drained areas such as swamps or marshes are often uninhabited or very sparsely populated. Areas with no rivers (very dry areas) are often sparsely populated as well.


Plants that inhabit waterlogged areas need to have special adaptations in order to survive. Therefore, areas that are poorly drained usually have distinct types of vegetation. For instance, poorly drained low lying coastal areas may be covered in mangrove forests. These plants are adapted to survive in areas with brackish water.

In very dry areas distinct types of vegetation such as scrub may be found. This type of vegetation is dominated by small bushes and short trees. These plants are adapted to survive in drier conditions. 


When building roads and railways, waterlogged areas such as swamps and marshes are usually avoided. If there are swampy areas on your map you may notice that there are no roads or railways running through them. 


The Influence of Cultivation

There may be areas of cultivated land indicated on your map. These cultivated areas may influence:


Minor roads may be built to provide access to farms. Roads or railways may be built to provide access to large estates. For instance, a large sugarcane estate may transport sugarcane to the factory by railway. There may be evidence of this on your map.


Often, there are settlements in or near cultivated areas. Can you see evidence of settlements in or near areas where crops are grown? 


The Influence of Settlement

The existence of settlements in various areas tends to influence:


Major roads are often built to connect major cities, towns and villages to each other. Minor roads may be built to provide access to small or remote settlements. Usually, wherever there are settlements, roads are built to provide access to them. Within settlements, minor roads facilitate the movement of people and goods from one point to another.









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