Land Surveying Versus Geomatics

April 2004 » Columns » GEOMATICS
In many of my columns and presentations, I have discussed the term geomatics being a more inclusive word to cover such related disciplines as surveying, mapping, and spatial data analysis.
Joseph V.R. Paiva, Ph.D., P.S., P.E.

In most states, licensed surveyors (often designated as land surveyor, professional land surveyor, or registered land surveyor), are the only people entitled by the state to do the following:

  • perform surveys that demarcate boundaries, title lines, and land lines (such as section lines);
  • offer opinions about the condition of those lines and all the related documents, actions taken, and physical evidence, including monumentation pertaining to those boundaries and lines.

In many of my columns and presentations, I have discussed the term geomatics being a more inclusive word to cover the activities performed by people engaged in such related disciplines as surveying, mapping, and spatial data analysis. The term offers a much more modern view of how various professionals can interact, be cross-trained, and most importantly, relate with each other in particular and society in general.

Of course, affixing the appellation geomatics to us is not the way to achieve this. It begins by studying, integrating, and—as individuals, businesses, and state and national societies—living what it means. But it has never been my intention to denigrate or dilute the powerful and important professional activity that is done by a sub-group (an important one, at that) that works with property and title lines—marking, writing land descriptions, opining, fact-finding, subdividing, locating, inspecting, and the like.

There are some readers who are disturbed by the fact that I write about the change facing the entire group of people engaged in geomatics. This, of course, includes that group of people involved in property boundary surveying activities. When I remind surveyors that it is important, as professionals, to know more about their instrumentation, error sources, measurement analysis techniques, and spatial data analysis, or when I urge them to understand more about the "whats," "hows," and "whys" of GIS, it appears that I give to some a variety of incorrect impressions.

One incorrect impression is that diligently searching for boundary evidence, locating it, and applying sound analysis and judgment in re-establishing boundary lines is no longer important—or at least that there need not be much attention paid to these activities.

The second incorrect impression is that understanding instrumentation, error sources, measurement analysis techniques, or GIS is much more important than the work done to establish or reestablish land boundaries and other landlines. Neither of these impressions is my intention, and I apologize if I have failed to communicate this effectively.

The truth of the matter (regarding my opinion, that is) is that both are equally important . And the emphasis required depends upon one's professional needs. To put it another way, a cardiologist is to medicine as a property boundary expert—a land surveyor—is to geomatics. As geomatics professionals, we possess (or should possess; that's another column) a common body of core knowledge. There are several layers of sub-groups, and each sub-group, sub-sub-group, and so forth, has its own commonalities, including knowledge, experience, culture, traditions, and training.

There is no intention, by calling land surveyoers (that is those people who have expertise in land boundries) "surveyors," to make them inferior. It simply is a reflection that while the boundary experts have their own body of knowledge, there is an expectation they they, including the larger sub-group of surveyors, all share the obligation to be an expert in such things as measurements of the land, analysis of measurements, and even to be good carographers.

There is a tendency for boundary experts to put themselves above the fray. To say that the other things within the surveying body of knowledge that are not boundary matterrelated—such as knowing how to manage your instrumentation and data analysis capabilities to design and execute a traverse properly—are not part of the professional body of knowledge, and thus not part of professional responsibility to know, is to sell oneself short. More importantly it sells the profession short.

While it is true that we have technicians or paraprofessionals, as medicine does, it does not take away from the professional's responsibility to understand deeply the theory and import of the work. Relegating responsibility for instrument understanding and operation, surveying computations, measurement analysis, and adjustment—or even geodesy, geophysics or other science—to some other group does us the disservice of diluting who we are as surveyors.

My entreaties to cause professionals to think about their larger profession as geomatics is to help all professionals within the sweep of that term see the bigger picture; to realize that they have a huge mix of professional expertise that can't be within the total grasp of any one member; to be proud of the expertise they possess within the geomatics continuum; and to convey the ideas of integrated thinking and solution development to the public they serve.

Whether or not particular parts of the work are done by paraprofessionals, we are obliged with the responsibility to learn, understand, and practice the knowledge we possess in our own specialties.

Joseph V.R. Paiva, Ph.D., P.S., P.E., is a geomatics consultant. He can be reached at paiva@cenews.com.


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