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Surveying is concerned with the accurate measurement and position of points on the Earth's surface, and to the establishment of boundaries. It basically achieves this by measuring the relative horizontal and vertical position of points on the ground, aided by a theodolite or a similar optical instrument.

Surveying has been an essential element in the development of the human environment since the beginning of recorded history and it is a requirement in the planning and execution of nearly every form of construction. Its most familiar modern uses are in the fields of transportation, building, apportionment of land, and communications, all of which depend on surveying's more fundamental functions of measuring the earth and boundaries upon it.



Surveying can be traced back even before the Egyptians, who, every year after the Nile River overflowed its banks and washed out farm boundaries, would re-establish the boundaries by surveying. The nearly perfect squareness and north-south orientation of the Great Pyramid of Giza, built c. 2700 BC, affirm the ancient Egyptians' command of surveying.

Types of surveys

  • Boundary survey: The actual positions of existing marks on land (typically iron rods or concrete monuments in the ground, but also tacks in trees, pipes, and manholes) are measured, and a map is drawn from the data.
  • Subdivision plat: A plot or map based on a survey of a parcel of land, lines are drawn inside it, indicating where roads and lots are. Plats are usually discussed back and forth between the developer and the surveyor until they are agreed on, at which point pins are driven into the ground to mark the lot corners and curve ends and the plat is recorded in the county cadaster (USA) or land registry (UK).
  • Draw lot: One lot from a plat is drawn, with any Censored pages and setbacks that may be on it.
  • Plot plan: A proposal for a house or other building and driveway or parking lot are added to a draw lot.
  • Foundation: The position of the house is measured before it is finished being built.
  • Physical: The finished house and driveway are measured, and all markers on the boundary are indicated. This is recorded when the lot is sold.

Modern surveying

Modern surveying utilizes an instrument called a total station, a small telescope equipped with an electronic distance-measuring device and set up on a tripod, although the modern use of satellite positioning systems, such as GPS, is also well established, with the robotic total station becoming widely used. Robotics allows surveyors to gather precise measurements without extra workers to look through and turn the telescope or record data.

Surveying as a career

Surveying has changed little over the ages but the tools used by surveyors have evolved tremendously. Engineering, especially civil engineering depends heavily on the surveyor. Whenever there are roads, dams, retaining walls, bridges or residential areas to be built, surveyors show the way. They determine the boundaries of private property and the boundaries of various political divisions. They also provide advice and data for geographical information systems (GIS), computer databases that contain data on land features and boundaries.

Surveyors must have a thorough knowledge of algebra, basic calculus, geometry, and trigonometry. They must also know the laws that deal with surveys, property, and contracts. In addition, they must be able to use delicate instruments with accuracy and precision.

In most states, surveying is recognized as a distinct profession apart from engineering. Licensure requirements vary by state. In the past, experience gained through an apprenticeship, together with passing a series of state-administered examinations, was required to attain licensure. Nowadays, many states require a Bachelor of Science in Surveying, or a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with additional coursework in surveying, in addition to experience and examination requirements. Registered surveyors usually denote themselves with the letters P.S. (professional surveyor), L.S. (land surveyor), or P.L.S. (professional land surveyor) following their names, depending upon the dictates of their particular state of registration.

See also

Famous surveyors

External links

  • American Congress on Surveying & Mapping
  • National Geodetic Survey
  • National Society of Professional Surveyors
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • International Federation of Surveyors

Last updated: 02-08-2005 08:09:03
Last updated: 02-27-2005 12:10:35