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Learn Surveying, definition of surveying,primary divisions of surveying,plane surveying, geodetic surveying and principle of surveying.


The measurement of dimensional relationships among points, lines, and physical features on or near the Earth’s surface. Basically, surveying determines horizontal distances, elevation differences, directions, and angles. These basic determinations are applied further to the computation of areas and volumes and to the establishment of locations with respect to some coordinate system.

Surveying is typically used to locate and measure property lines; to lay out buildings, bridges, channels, highways, sewers, and pipelines for construction; to locate stations for launching and tracking satellites; and to obtain topographic information for mapping and charting.

Horizontal distances are usually assumed to be parallel to a common plane. Each measurement has both length and direction. Length is expressed in feet or in meters. Direction is expressed as a bearing of the azimuthal angle relationship to a reference meridian, which is the north-south direction. It can be the true meridian, a grid meridian, or some other assumed meridian. The degree-minute-second system of angular expression is standard in the United States.

Reference, or control, is a concept that applies to the positions of lines as well as to their directions. In its simplest form, the position control is an identifiable or understood point of origin for the lines of a survey. Conveniently, most coordinate systems have the origin placed west and south of the area to be surveyed so that all coordinates are positive and in the northeast quadrant.

Vertical measurement adds the third dimension to an object’s position. This dimension is expressed as the distance above some reference surface, usually mean sea level, called a datum. Mean sea level is determined by averaging high and low tides during a lunar month.

Horizontal control

The main framework, or control, of a survey is laid out by traverse, triangulation, or trilateration. Some success has been achieved in locating control points from Doppler measurements of passing satellites, from aerial phototriangulation, from satellites photographed against a star background, and from inertial guidance systems. In traverse, adopted for most ordinary surveying, a line or series of lines is established by directly measuring lengths and angles. In triangulation, used mainly for large areas, angles are again directly measured, but distances are computed trigonometrically. This necessitates triangular patterns of lines connecting intervisible points and starting from a baseline of known length. New baselines are measured at intervals. Trigonometric methods are also used in trilateration, but lengths, rather than angles, are measured. The development of electronic distance measurement (EDM) instruments brought trilateration into significant use.

Distance measurement

Traverse distances are usually measured with a surveyor’s tape or by EDM, but also may sometimes be measured by stadia, subtense, or trig-traverse.

Whether on sloping or level ground, it is horizontal distances that must be measured. In taping, horizontal components of hillside distances are measured by raising the downhill end of the tape to the level of the uphill end. On steep ground this technique is used with shorter sections of the tape. The raised end is positioned over the ground point with the aid of a plumb bob. Where slope distances are taped along the ground, the slope angle can be measured with the clinometer. The desired horizontal distance can then be computed.

In EDM the time a signal requires to travel from an emitter to a receiver or reflector and back to the sender is converted to a distance readout. The great advantage of electronic distance measuring is its unprecedented precision, speed, and convenience. Further, if mounted directly onto a theodolite, and especially if incorporated into it and electronically coupled to it, the EDM instrument with an internal computer can in seconds measure distance (even slope distance) and direction, then compute the coordinates of the sighted point with all the accuracy required for high-order surveying.

In the stadia technique, a graduated stadia rod is held upright on a point and sighted through a transit telescope set up over another point. The distance between the two points is determined from the length of rod intercepted between two horizontal wires in the telescope.

In the subtense technique the transit angle subtended by a horizontal bar of fixed length enables computation of the transit-to-bar distance (Fig. 1). In trig-traverse the subtense bar is replaced by a measured baseline extending at a right angle from the survey line whose distance is desired. The distance calculated in either subtense or trig-traverse is automatically the horizontal distance and needs no correction.

Angular measurement

The most common instrument for measuring angles is the transit or theodolite. It is essentially a telescope that can be rotated a measurable amount about a vertical axis and a horizontal axis. Carefully graduated metal or glass circles concentric with each axis are used to measure the angles. The transit is centered over a point with the aid of either a plumb bob suspended by a string from the vertical axis or (on some theodolites) an optical plummet, which enables the operator to sight along the instrument’s vertical axis to the ground through a right-angle prism.

Elevation differences

Elevations may be measured trigonometrically in conjunction with reduction of slope measurements to horizontal distances, but the resulting elevation differences are of low precision.

Most third-order and all second- and first-order measurements are made by differential leveling, wherein a horizontal line of sight of known elevation is sighted on a graduated rod held vertically on the point being checked (Fig. 2). The transit telescope, leveled, may establish the sight line, but more often a specialized leveling instrument is used. For approximate results a hand level may be used.

Other methods of measuring elevation include trigonometric leveling which involves calculating height from measurements of horizontal, distance and vertical angle; barometric leveling, a method of determining approximate elevation difference with aid of a barometer; and airborne profiling, in which a radar altimeter on an aircraft is used to obtain ground elevations.

Astronomical observations

To determine meridian direction and geographic latitude, observations are made by a theodolite or transit on Polaris, the Sun, or other stars. Direction of the meridian (geographic north-south line) is needed for direction control purposes; latitude is needed where maps and other sources are insufficient. The simplest meridian determination is made by sighting Polaris at its elongation, as the star is rounding the easterly or westerly extremity of its apparent orbit. An angular correction is applied to the direction of sighting, which is referenced to a line on the ground. The correction value is found in an ephemeris.

Definition of Surveying

Definition of Surveying : The art of determining the relative positions of distinctive features on the surface of earth or beneath the surface of the earth, by means of measurements of distances, directions and elevations is called surveying

 Primary Divisions of Surveying

Surveying may primarily be divided into two divisions:

  1. Plane surveying.

The surveys in which earth surface is assumed as plane and the curvature of the earth is ignored, are known as Plane surveys.

  1. Geodetic surveying.

The surveys in which curvature of the- earth is taken into account and higher degree of ac­curacy in linear and angular observations, is achieved, are known as Geodetic surveys.

 Principle of Surveying

The main principle of surveying whether plane or geodetic is to work from the whole to part. To achieve this in actual practice, sufficient number of primary control points are es­tablished with higher precision in and around the area to be detailed surveyed. Minor control points in between primary control stations, are then established with less precision method. The details are surveyed with the help of these minor control points, adopting any one of the methods of surveying. The main idea of surveying from the whole to the part, is to prevent accumulation of errors and to localise the minor errors in the frame work of the control points.


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