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Surveying or land surveying is the technique, profession, and science of determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional positions of points and the distances and angles between them. A land surveying professional is called a land surveyor.

These points are usually on the surface of the Earth, and they are often used to establish maps and boundaries for ownership, locations, such as building corners or the surface location of subsurface features, or other purposes required by government or civil law, such as property sales.

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Surveyors work with elements of geometry, trigonometry, regression analysis, physics, engineering, metrology, programming languages, and the law. They use equipment, such as total stations, robotic total stations, theodolites, GPS receivers, retroreflectors, 3D scanners, radios, handheld tablets, digital levels, subsurface locators, drones, GIS, and surveying software.

Surveying has been an element in the development of the human environment since the beginning of recorded history. The planning and execution of most forms of construction require it. It is also used in transport, communications, mapping, and the definition of legal boundaries for land ownership. It is an important tool for research in many other scientific disciplines.


A surveyor is a professional person with the academic qualifications and technical expertise to conduct one, or more, of the following activities;

to determine, measure and represent land, three-dimensional objects, point-fields and trajectories;
to assemble and interpret land and geographically related information,
to use that information for the planning and efficient administration of the land, the sea and any structures thereon; and,
to conduct research into the above practices and to develop them.


The simplest method for measuring height is with an altimeter using air pressure to find height. When more precise measurements are needed, means like precise levels (also known as differential leveling) are used. When precise leveling, a series of measurements between two points are taken using an instrument and a measuring rod.

Differences in height between the measurements are added and subtracted in a series to get the net difference in elevation between the two endpoints. With the Global Positioning System (GPS), elevation can be measured with satellite receivers. Usually GPS is somewhat less accurate than traditional precise leveling, but may be similar over long distances.

When using an optical level, the endpoint may be out of the effective range of the instrument. There may be obstructions or large changes of elevation between the endpoints. In these situations, extra setups are needed. Turning is a term used when referring to moving the level to take an elevation shot from a different location.

To “turn” the level, one must first take a reading and record the elevation of the point the rod is located on. While the rod is being kept in exactly the same location, the level is moved to a new location where the rod is still visible. A reading is taken from the new location of the level and the height difference is used to find the new elevation of the level gun.

This is repeated until the series of measurements is completed. The level must be horizontal to get a valid measurement. Because of this, if the horizontal crosshair of the instrument is lower than the base of the rod, the surveyor will not be able to sight the rod and get a reading. The rod can usually be raised up to 25 feet high, allowing the level to be set much higher than the base of the rod.

Determining position

The primary way of determining one’s position on the earth’s surface when no known positions are nearby is by astronomic observations. Observations to the sun, moon and stars could all be made using navigational techniques. Once the instrument’s position and bearing to a star is determined, the bearing can be transferred to a reference point on the earth.

The point can then be used as a base for further observations. Survey-accurate astronomic positions were difficult to observe and calculate and so tended to be a base off which many other measurements were made. Since the advent of the GPS system, astronomic observations are rare as GPS allows adequate positions to be determined over most of the surface of the earth.

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