Understanding Contouring

Understanding Contouring

Areas of Study: Exploration and Geology

Qualifies for CMS

Qualifies for Certification

This course builds awareness of what to watch for when using different contour methods, when a method is most suitable, and when it is not. Contour methods covered include inverse distance, kriging, minimum curvature, trend surface and triangulation.

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  • Audience Level:
  • Professional
  • Enrollment:
  • Required
  • Duration:
  • 17 hours

Course Summary


Contouring of irregular spatial data by hand has been used by geoscientists for many decades. Contouring using a computer is relatively new and has become more widely used in the earth sciences only in the last 20 years. The availability of inexpensive microcomputer hardware and software makes the use of a computer for contouring affordable for nearly everyone.

Gridding and contouring software has become flexible enough to satisfy nearly all needs for contouring with speed and convenience. Computer contouring is not perfect, so it is necessary to constantly be on guard and check results for artifacts and make sure the contour results are representative of the data. This course will help build awareness of what to watch for when using each contour method, when a method is most suitable, and when it is not.

Since the early 1980's, we have experienced a significant increase in access to computer programs for contouring, as well as a large variety of computer algorithms. Books have been written about the algorithms and how they are used. The purpose of this course is to pull together information on the most commonly used contouring algorithms and reveal the 'secrets' of how and why they are used. These 'secrets' are not really secrets, but to find all this information you have to dig through many books, use the algorithms (hundreds of times) and observe results. We have explored all these resources for you and present the findings in this course.

Hand contouring is still done by some people, and the first section of the course covers hand contouring methods, when to use them, and the pitfalls to avoid. Understanding hand contouring is a first step to using contour software effectively.

Course Content

The course is presented in four parts ...

  • Part 1: Introduction to Contouring, Triangulation and Gridding
  • Part 2: Gridding Algorithms
  • Part 3: Gridding Results and Computer Mapping
  • Part 4: Appendices
The course comprises 17 learning sessions of 30 - 60 minutes each, supported by images, figures, tables, and appendices, plus three reviews of multiple choice questions. Estimated course duration is equivalent to approximately 17 hours of learning content.

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify and discuss different contour methods.
  • Recognize whether or not contour results are representative of a data set.
  • Choose the most suitable contour method and parameters for a particular data set.

Recommended Background

  • High school science.
  • Familiarity with maps and contours.
  • Observant disposition and eye for detail.

Betty L. Gibbs

Betty Gibbs is President of Gibbs Associates and is a Mining Engineer with over 30 years experience in a variety of mining companies and as a consultant. As a consultant since 1985, she has assembled a storehouse of information on technical software, conducted numerous workshops on technical subjects related to geology and mining, and evaluated a wide range of software for technical applications.

Dr. Stephen A. Krajewski

Stephen A. Krajewski is a geographer and geologist and is Vice President of Industrial Ergonomics Incorporated, a company providing training and consulting services to earth science professionals in petroleum, mining and environmental companies, in government agencies, and in universities. For the past ten years, his work has focused on helping end-users select, install, and use microcomputers and technical applications software for geological, geophysical, engineering and environmental applications on an international basis.