Land Surveying Defined

Surveying or land surveying is the technique and science of accurately determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them. These points are usually on the surface of the Earth, and they are often used to establish land maps and boundaries for ownership or governmental purposes. To accomplish their objective, surveyors use elements of geometry, engineering, trigonometry, mathematics, physics, and law. An alternative definition, per the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), is the science and art of making all essential measurements to determine the relative position of points and/or physical and cultural details above, on, or beneath the surface of the Earth, and to depict them in a usable form, or to establish the position of points and/or details. Furthermore, as alluded to above, a particular type of surveying known as "land surveying" (also per ACSM) is the detailed study or inspection, as by gathering information through observations, measurements in the field, questionnaires, or research of legal instruments, and data analysis in the support of planning, designing, and establishing of property boundaries. It involves the re-establishment of cadastral surveys and land boundaries based on documents of record and historical evidence, as well as certifying surveys (as required by statute or local ordinance) of subdivision plats/maps, registered land surveys, judicial surveys, and space delineation. Land surveying can include associated services such as mapping and related data accumulation, construction layout surveys, precision measurements of length, angle, elevation, area, and volume, as well as horizontal and vertical control surveys, and the analysis and utilization of land survey data.

Surveying has been an essential element in the development of the human environment since the beginning of recorded history (about 5,000 years ago). It is required in the planning and execution of nearly every form of construction. Its most familiar modern uses are in the fields of transport, building and construction, communications, mapping, and the definition of legal boundaries for land ownership.

History of Land Surveying

Surveying techniques have existed throughout much of recorded history. In ancient Egypt, when the Nile River overflowed its banks and washed out farm boundaries, boundaries were re-established by a rope stretcher, or surveyor, through the application of simple geometry. The nearly perfect squareness and north-south orientation of the Great Pyramid of Giza, built c. 2700 BC, affirm the Egyptians' command of surveying.

The Egyptian land register (3000 BC). A recent reassessment of Stonehenge (c. 2500 BC) indicates that the monument was set out by prehistoric surveyors using peg and rope geometry. The Groma surveying instrument originated in Mesopotamia (early 1st millennium BC). Under the Romans, land surveyors were established as a profession, and they established the basic measurements under which the Roman Empire was divided, such as a tax register of conquered lands (300 AD). The rise of the Caliphate led to extensive surveying throughout the Arab Empire. Arabic surveyors invented a variety of specialized instruments for surveying, including: Instruments for accurate leveling: A wooden board with a plumb line and two hooks, an equilateral triangle with a plumb line and two hooks, and a reed level. A rotating alhidade, used for accurate alignment. A surveying astrolabe, used for alignment, measuring angles, triangulation, finding the width of a river, and the distance between two points separated by an impassable obstruction. In England, The Domesday Book by William the Conqueror (1086) covered all England contained names of the land owners, area, land quality, and specific information of the area's content and inhabitants. did not include maps showing exact locations In the 18th century in Europe triangulation was used to build a hierarchy of networks to allow point positioning within a country. Highest in the hierarchy were triangulation networks. These were densified into networks of traverses (polygons), into which local mapping surveying measurements, usually with measuring tape, corner prism and the familiar red and white poles, are tied. For example, in the late 1780s, a team from the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, originally under General William Roy began the Principal Triangulation of Britain using the specially built Ramsden theodolite. Large scale surveys are known as geodetic surveys.

Surveying Techniques

A standard Brunton Geo compass, still used commonly today by geologists and surveyors for field-based measurements. Example of modern hardware for surveying (Field-Map technology): GPS, laser rangefinder and field computer allows surveying as well as cartography (creation of map in real-time) and field data collection.Historically, distances were measured using a variety of means, such as with chains having links of a known length, for instance a Gunter's chain, or measuring tapes made of steel or invar. To measure horizontal distances, these chains or tapes were pulled taut according to temperature, to reduce sagging and slack. Additionally, attempts to hold the measuring instrument level would be made. In instances of measuring up a slope, the surveyor might have to "break" (break chain) the measurement- use an increment less than the total length of the chain.

Historically, horizontal angles were measured using a compass, which would provide a magnetic bearing, from which deflections could be measured. This type of instrument was later improved, with more carefully scribed discs providing better angular resolution, as well as through mounting telescopes with reticles for more-precise sighting atop the disc (see theodolite). Additionally, levels and calibrated circles allowing measurement of vertical angles were added, along with verniers for measurement to a fraction of a degree—such as with a turn-of-the-century transit.

The simplest method for measuring height is with an altimeter — basically a barometer — using air pressure as an indication of height. But surveying requires greater precision. A variety of means, such as precise levels (also known as differential leveling), have been developed to do this. With precise leveling, a series of measurements between two points are taken using an instrument and a measuring rod. Differentials in height between the measurements are added and subtracted in a series to derive the net difference in elevation between the two endpoints of the series. With the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS), elevation can also be derived with sophisticated satellite receivers, but usually with somewhat less accuracy than with traditional precise leveling. However, the accuracies may be similar if the traditional leveling would have to be run over a long distance.

Triangulation is another method of horizontal location made almost obsolete by GPS. With the triangulation method, distances, elevations and directions between objects at great distance from one another can be determined. Since the early days of surveying, this was the primary method of determining accurate positions of objects for topographic maps of large areas. A surveyor first needs to know the horizontal distance between two of the objects. Then the height, distances and angular position of other objects can be derived, as long as they are visible from one of the original objects. High-accuracy transits or theodolites were used for this work, and angles between objects were measured repeatedly for increased accuracy.

Surveying Equipment

A German engineer surveying during the First World War, 1918As late as the 1990s, the basic tools used in planar surveying were a tape measure for determining shorter distances, a level to determine height or elevation differences, and a theodolite, set on a tripod, to measure angles (horizontal and vertical), combined with the process of triangulation. Starting from a position with known location and elevation, the distance and angles to the unknown point are measured.

A more modern instrument is a total station, which is a theodolite with an electronic distance measurement device (EDM). A total station can also be used for leveling when set to the horizontal plane. Since their introduction, total stations have made the technological shift from being optical-mechanical devices to being fully electronic with an onship computer and software as well as humans.

Modern top-of-the-line total stations no longer require a reflector or prism (used to return the light pulses used for distancing) to return distance measurements, are fully robotic, and can even e-mail point data to the office computer and connect to satellite positioning systems, such as a Global Positioning System (GPS). Though real-time kinematic GPS systems have increased the speed of surveying, they are still horizontally accurate to only about 20 mm and vertically accurate to about 30–40 mm.

Total stations are still used widely, along with other types of surveying instruments. However, GPS systems do not work well in areas with dense tree cover or constructions. One-person robotic-guided total stations allow surveyors to gather precise measurements without extra workers to look through and turn the telescope or record data. A faster but expensive way to measure large areas (not details, and no obstacles) is with a helicopter, equipped with a laser scanner, combined with a GPS to determine the position and elevation of the helicopter. To increase precision, beacons are placed on the ground (about 20 km (12 mi) apart). This method reaches precisions between 5–40 cm (depending on flight height).