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Surveying & Mapping and GPS

GPS, particularly high-precision GPS, is integral to today's land surveying and mapping sectors, which were early adopters of GPS because it dramatically increased both productivity and accuracy.

Surveying and mapping tasks that once required line-of-sight visibility, mechanical or electro-optical-mechanical devices, and instruments such as measuring tapes, compasses, and levels such as plumb bobs, can now be accomplished with all-in-one GPS systems. Projects that could take weeks with traditional methods can now be accomplished in days — freed of the constraints of line-of-sight visibility and with far fewer personnel and far greater safety.


Surveyors utilize GPS applications for myriad activities. These include developing map designs, locations of topographic features, conducting city planning, surveying for land transactions, management of national assets, emergency preparedness, disaster response, public sector water, wastewater and electric utilities, other public works, environmental management, environmental health, insurance rating districts, flood zones and tax appraisals.

High-precision GPS receivers are used by surveyors for the efficient design, construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, commercial properties, residential subdivisions, parks, farms and golf courses. GPS technology is the backbone of all-weather lane guidance systems for snowplows and buses, and millimeter monitoring and early warning of structure, dam, earthquake, fault zone and volcano movement.

GPS is also an essential part of the national geodetic infrastructure and is used in surveying and mapping activities necessary for civil engineering and accident investigations as well as the field creation, maintenance and use of geographic information systems databases that underpin our national digital mapping infrastructure.

Nearly all mapping data collected involves the use of GPS, and all modern airborne or satellite-based systems are dependent on GPS for navigation, positioning and geolocation of the data.

As the Arizona State Cartographer's Office and the Arizona Geographic Information Council commented in 2011, "The precise data obtained through the use of advanced GPS receiver equipment has virtually revolutionized the ability to collect and process geospatial data in a manner not possible without access to uninterrupted GPS signals."

Nationwide, there are currently about 55,000 licensed land surveyors, and as of 2010 there were about 57,000 surveying and mapping technicians. There's a strong small business component: Of the 8,000 private sector surveying firms, which employ 45,000 people with a combined payroll of slightly more than $2 billion, 95 percent employ 20 or fewer people. Those figures do not count firms that employ surveyors but have other primary business activities beyond surveying, such as the many engineers who also depend on GPS. In California alone, for instance, there are 4,000 licensed surveyors and 68,000 engineers who are highly dependent on GPS technology.

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