Geospatial databases and the evolving role of the surveyor

Oct 2010 | No Comment

The surveyor is being compelled to view survey measurements not in terms of products, but in the broader context of societal applications of the data

Frank Derby, Phd

Associate Professor of Surveying and GIS
Bell Atlantic Center for Technolog
The Pennsylvania State University, USA

With maturation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, the consumer community as well as decision and policy makers have quickly realized the importance of making sound decisions based on information derived from properly designed geospatial databases. Organizations have created proprietary geospatial databases and governments are rethinking the contents of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). Extensive geographic data acquisition programs including satellite imagery, digital aerial photographs and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) systems at varying ground resolutions, as well as land parcel data are currently in progress around the world. Enabling technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and digital image processing software have also facilitated the data processing aspects of these projects. The consuming public has also become more aware of the benefits of geospatial information, and is compelling service providers to provide it. Web-based applications are leading to data accessing and processing techniques such as “mash-ups” and cloud computing services through hosted content and virtual machines which process data from disparate locations.

In the early stages of the data capture and processing stages, the surveyor played a major role in the development of geospatial databases as well as the compilation of graphical data layers. In many of the developed world, a large portion of the traditional surveying aspects of the data capture have been completed. In view of these developments it is now time to look at the role that the land surveyor can play to improve the accuracy and integrity of the geospatial databases and applications, in order to ensure availability of better information to support policy and decision making as well as the needs of the consuming public.

Trends in geospatial data acquisition

Within the last thirty years, GIS technology has evolved from single purpose, project based applications to enterprise systems. Enterprise systems are currently being used by businesses, institutions, industry, local governments and the private sector to provide services to clients, manage resources, and to address multiple issues pertaining to health and human resources, transportation, public safety, utilities and communications, natural resource, defense and intelligence, retail and many more.

To support national development, governments are building national geospatial platforms as the infrastructure that integrates the NSDI to support research, policy matters, socio-economic development, to manage and allocate resources. The NSDI forms the framework that integrates spatial data, computer software, hardware, human resource and technology to meet geospatial data needs of local and municipal governments as well as organizations. In the United States, for example, the NSDI includes, transportation, elevation and bathymetry, hydrography, ortho-imagery, geodetic control, land parcel layers and administrative units. Local and municipal governments are compiling supplementary databases to support land development, taxation and revenue generation purposes, public safety, emergency management and other activities that are relevant to local and municipal governments. Utility companies are also developing databases for oil, gas, electricity, and water lines, together with descriptive data to help them become more efficient and responsive to customer needs. Development of geodatabases has evolved into an industry where commercial entities also produce and market proprietary geospatial databases in addition to providing geospatial applications in the form of services to consumers.

Whereas some of these data capture and compilation activities are conducted by traditional surveying methods, other data acquisition methods which involve extensive aerial photography, LIDAR and satellite imagery are conducted with limited involvement of surveyors. Terrestrial and air-borne GPS technologies have further reduced the need for traditional land surveying services. Mobile mapping technologies which are operated by companies such as Topcon and Trimble have also facilitated the data acquisition process, and further limited the activities of the traditional surveyor, by quickly providing 3-dimnesional georeferenced images of features within the camera range as the vehicle travels around a community. With increasing need for data acquisition, processing, and information dissemination, commercial companies have extended geospatial data acquisition to include marketing of proprietary databases, content hosting, and data analysis. The demand for geodatabases will certainly increase with increased societal needs.

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