Developer blog for the Holocene section, which aims to explore likely changes in the local sound environment since the end of the last glacial period 12,000 years ago.

28 OCTOBER 2012

The lie of the land

A contour map of the London area shows the extent of the Thames floodplain and the action of water on the surrounding landscape.

THE THAMES COILS across an alluvial bed of sand, gravel and clay, which in turn is nested inside a bow-shaped syncline of chalk. The North Downs mark the upthrust of one side of the syncline.

The contour map below was drawn over a few weeks and in it those and other features are very obvious. The wide tonal range makes the London area look more dramatic than it is, but it’s intriguing how clearly the Thames floodplain can be seen.

The Lea Valley is also visible, and the delicate tracery of our smaller rivers and streams seems like a landscape of canyons. But the highest areas are little more than nubs and bumps on the ground. Westerham Heights in the borough of Bromley peaks at 245 metres, and most other notable London hills such as Muswell Hill and Shooter’s Hill are even less Olympian at 105 and 132 metres respectively. But that’s ideal for urban growth.

Contour height map of London


The contour map allows a three-dimensional relief map to rendered by the scenery generator program Vue D’Esprit. Below the Thames floodplain and surrounding hills are viewed from the east. The Lea Valley is visible to the right and the high ground of Shooter’s Hill and Lesnes Abbey Woods is to the left.

Relief map rendered from the east


The same model viewed from the west. The hills of Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common can be made out on the right. In both renderings the lighting angle has been set just above the horizon to accentuate the terrain.

Relief map rendered from the west


The model will serve as the basis for more detailed and realistic landscapes, to be populated with the right kinds of trees and other vegetation for different points in the past. Once you know what was growing somewhere, you also have an idea of what animals were living there, and what sounds might have been heard.

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