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Hydrography is the measurement of physical characteristics of waters and marginal land. In the generalized usage, "hydrography" pertains to measurement and description of any waters. With that usage oceanography and limnology are subsets of hydrography. In specialized usage the term applies to those measurements and descriptions of navigable waters necessary for safe navigation of vessels. The specialized term is now more commonly seen in application, probably as a result of the emergence of the subsets as major fields of science.

Large scale hydrography is usually undertaken by national or international organizations that sponsor data collection through precise surveys and the publication of charts and descriptive material for navigational purposes. The science of oceanography is, in part, an outgrowth of classical hydrography. In many respects the data are interchangeable, but marine hydrographic data will be particularly directed toward marine navigation and safety of that navigation.

Hydrographic measurements will include the tidal, current and wave information of physical oceanography. They will include bottom measurements, but with particular emphasis on those marine geological features that pose a hazard to navigation such as rocks, shoals, reefs and other features that obstruct ship passage. Unlike oceanography, hydrography will include shore features, natural and manmade, that aid in navigation. A hydrographic survey will therefore include accurate positions and representations of hills, mountains and even lights and towers that will aid in fixing a ship's position as well as the aspects of the sea and seabed.

Hydrography, partly for reasons of safety, tends to be more traditional in outlook and has conventions that are not entirely "scientific" in some views. For example, hydrographic charts will usually tend to over represent least depths and ignore the actual submarine topography that will be portrayed on bathymetric charts. The former are the mariner's tools to avoid accident. The later are best representations of the actual seabed, as in a topographic map, for scientific and other purposes.

A hydrographic survey differs from a bathymetric survey in some important respects, particularly in a bias toward least depths, due to the safety requirements of the former and geomorphology descriptive requirements of the latter. As just one important example the echosoundings will be conducted under settings biased toward least depths while in bathymetric surveys they will be set for best description of the submarine topographical features that may include sound velocity and slope corrections that are more accurate but eliminate the safety bias.

Hydrography of streams will include information on the stream bed, flows, water quality and surrounding land. Basin or Interior Hydrography pays special attention to rivers and sweet water .



Hydrography's origin lies in the making of chart like drawings and notations made by individual mariners. These were usually the private property, even closely held secrets, of individuals who used them for commercial or military advantage. Eventually organizations, particularly navies, realized the collection of this individualized knowledge and distribution to their members gave an organizational advantage. The next step was to organize members to actively collect information. Thus were born dedicated hydrographic organizations for the collection, organization, publication and distribution of hydrography incorporated into charts and sailing directions.

An interesting historical relationship is that of James Whistler to hydrography. His artistic talents were applied to the sometimes beautiful shore profiles that appeared on charts during his work as a cartographer with both the civilian and naval U. S. hydrographic organizations. Those profiles on early charts were etchings designed to aid mariners in identifying their landfall and harbor approaches.


Hydrographic services in most countries are carried out by specialised hydrographic offices. The international coordination of hydrographic efforts lies with the International Hydrographic Organization.

See also

External links

  • Hydrography of Kentucky . (See also Wikilink: Kentucky)
  • Hydrography of Grand Teton National Park and Surrounding Area. (See also Wikilink: Grand Teton National Park)
  • The hydrography of an Italian region : by the Regione Abruzzo Settore Turismo
  • German Hydrographic Society

Last updated: 02-19-2005 23:32:28
Last updated: 03-18-2005 11:16:12