A spatial pattern is a perceptual structure, placement, or arrangement of objects on Earth. It also includes the space in between those objects. Patterns may be recognized because of their arrangement; maybe in a line or by a clustering of points. In attempting to recognize and understand spatial patterns on maps, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there an area that is more dense with objects than others?
  • Is there an area that has fewer or no objects than others?
  • Are there clusters of objects?
  • Is there a randomness or uniformity to the location of the objects?
  • Does there seem to be a relationship between individual objects (is one object located where is its because of another)?

A point pattern is spatial pattern that is composed of closely arranged, somewhat organized, points. Study the map of cities in the United States and try to pick out patterns. Click on the title to view a description of two patterns on the map.

An example of spatial line patterns might be found on a map of roads or river networks. In addition to the above questions, ask yourself:

  • Are the lines leading from one to another or leading from another features?
  • Are the lines connecting to each other in a meaningful manner?

Look at the map of US Rivers and note the patterns. Click on the title to see a description of patterns in the map.

Finally, consider area patterns. A few things to look for in terms of interpretation of areal patterns are:

  • Representative textures
  • Colors and color transitions
  • Areas that are adjacent or nearby to one another

Look at the US Population Density map and note the patterns. Click on the title to see a description of patterns in the map.

Once you have completed this spatial pattern analysis, go to Step 2 .

Go to Step 2
Describe the Spatial Patterns
on the Image
Go to Step 3
Postulate the Relationships between the Spatial Patterns and Earth Features
Go to Step 4
Evaluate Your Work
Go to Step 5
Propose an Explanation of "Why?"
Go to Step 6
Conclusion and Final Assessment

Page designed and maintained by Lisa Keys-Mathews
Last update: 11/10/03