Several different types of workers are responsible for measuring and mapping the earthís surface. Traditional land surveyors establish official land, air space, and water boundaries. They write descriptions of land for deeds, leases, and other legal documents; define airspace for airports; and measure construction and mineral sites. Other surveyors provide data relevant to the shape, contour, location, elevation, or dimension of land or land features. Cartographers compile geographic, political, and cultural information and prepare maps of large areas. Photogrammetrists measure and analyze aerial photographs that are subsequently used to prepare detailed maps and drawings. Surveying technicians assist land surveyors by operating survey instruments and collecting information in the field and by performing computations and computer-aided drafting in offices. Mapping technicians calculate mapmaking information from field notes. They also draw topographical maps and verify their accuracy.
Land surveyors manage survey parties who measure distances, directions, and angles between points and elevations of points, lines, and contours on, above, and below the earthís surface. They plan the fieldwork, select known survey reference points, and determine the precise location of important features in the survey area. Surveyors research legal records, look for evidence of previous boundaries, and analyze the data to determine the location of boundary lines. They also record the results of surveys, verify the accuracy of data, and prepare plots, maps, and reports. Surveyors who establish boundaries must be licensed by the State in which they work. Known as professional land surveyors, they are sometimes called to provide expert testimony in court cases concerning matters pertaining to surveying.
A survey party gathers the information needed by the land surveyor. A typical survey party consists of a party chief and one or more surveying technicians and helpers. The party chief, who may be either a land surveyor or a senior surveying technician, leads day-to-day work activities. Surveying technicians assist the party chief by adjusting and operating surveying instruments, such as the theodolite (used to measure horizontal and vertical angles) and electronic distance-measuring equipment. Surveying technicians or assistants position and hold the vertical rods, or targets, that the theodolite operator sights on to measure angles, distances, or elevations. In addition, they may hold measuring tapes, if electronic distance-measuring equipment is not used. Surveying technicians compile notes, make sketches, and enter the data obtained from surveying instruments into computers. Survey parties also may include laborers or helpers who perform less skilled duties, such as clearing brush from sight lines, driving stakes, or carrying equipment.
New technology is changing the nature of the work of surveyors and surveying technicians. On larger projects, surveyors are increasingly using the Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite system that locates points on the earth to a high degree of precision by using radio signals transmitted via satellites. To use this system, a surveyor places a satellite signal receivera small instrument mounted on a tripodon a desired point. The receiver simultaneously collects information from several satellites to establish a precise position. The receiver also can be placed in a vehicle for tracing out road systems. Because receivers now come in different sizes and shapes, and because the cost of receivers has fallen, much more surveying work can be done with GPS. Surveyors then must interpret and check the results produced by the new technology.
Cartographers measure, map, and chart the earthís surface. Their work involves everything from performing geographical research and compiling data to actually producing maps. Cartographers collect, analyze, and interpret both spatial datasuch as latitude, longitude, elevation, and distanceand nonspatial datafor example, population density, land-use patterns, annual precipitation levels, and demographic characteristics. They prepare maps in either digital or graphic form, using information provided by geodetic surveys, aerial photographs, and satellite data. Photogrammetrists prepare detailed maps and drawings from aerial photographs, usually of areas that are inaccessible, difficult, or less cost efficient to survey by other methods. Map editors develop and verify the contents of maps, using aerial photographs and other reference sources. Some States require photogrammetrists to be licensed as professional land surveyors.
Some surveyors perform specialized functions closer to those of cartographers than to those of traditional surveyors. For example, geodetic surveyors use high-accuracy techniques, including satellite observations (remote sensing), to measure large areas of the earthís surface. Geophysical prospecting surveyors mark sites for subsurface exploration, usually in relation to petroleum. Marine or hydrographic surveyors survey harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water to determine shorelines, the topography of the bottom, water depth, and other features.
The work of surveyors and cartographers is changing because of advancements in technology, including not only the GPS, but also new earth resources data satellites, improved aerial photography, and geographic information systems (GIS)computerized data banks of spatial data, along with the hardware, software, and staff needed to use them. These systems are capable of assembling, integrating, analyzing, and displaying data identified according to location. A GIS typically is used to handle maps which combine information that is useful for environmental studies, geology, engineering, planning, business marketing, and other disciplines. As more of these systems are developed, a new type of mapping scientist is emerging from the older specialties of photogrammetrist and cartographer: the geographic information specialist combines the functions of mapping science and surveying into a broader field concerned with the collection and analysis of geographic data.
Surveyors usually work an 8-hour day, 5 days a week, and may spend a lot of time outdoors. Sometimes they work longer hours during the summer, when weather and light conditions are most suitable for fieldwork. Seasonal demands for longer hours are related to demand for specific surveying services. Home purchases traditionally are related to the start and end of the school year; construction is related to the materials to be used (unlike wood framing, concrete and asphalt are restricted by outside temperatures); and aerial photography is most effective when the leaves are off the trees.
Land surveyors and technicians engage in active, sometimes strenuous, work. They often stand for long periods, walk considerable distances, and climb hills with heavy packs of instruments and other equipment. They also can be exposed to all types of weather. Traveling often is part of the job, and land surveyors and technicians may commute long distances, stay away from home overnight, or temporarily relocate near a survey site.
Although surveyors can spend considerable time indoors, planning surveys, analyzing data, and preparing reports and maps, cartographers and photogrammetrists spend virtually all of their time in offices and seldom visit the sites they are mapping.
Surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying technicians held about 124,000 jobs in 2002. Architectural, engineering, and related services firmsincluding firms that provided surveying and mapping services to other industries on a contract basisprovided about two-thirds of jobs for these workers. Federal, State, and local governmental agencies provided almost 1 in 6 jobs. Major Federal Government employers are the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Army Corps of Engineers, the Forest Service (USFS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Most surveyors in State and local government work for highway departments and urban planning and redevelopment agencies. Construction firms, mining and oil and gas extraction companies, and utilities also employ surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying technicians. Only a small number were self-employed in 2002.
Most people prepare for a career as a licensed surveyor by combining postsecondary school courses in surveying with extensive on-the-job training. However, as technology advances, a 4-year college degree is increasingly becoming a prerequisite. About 50 universities now offer 4-year programs leading to a B.S. degree in surveying. Junior and community colleges, technical institutes, and vocational schools offer 1-, 2-, and 3-year programs in both surveying and surveying technology.
All 50 States and all U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands) license land surveyors. For licensure, most State licensing boards require that individuals pass a written examination given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Most States also require surveyors to pass a written examination prepared by the State licensing board. In addition, candidates must meet varying standards of formal education and work experience in the field.
In the past, many with little formal training in surveying started as members of survey crews and worked their way up to become licensed surveyors. However, because of advancing technology and rising licensing standards, formal education requirements are increasing. Specific requirements vary among States. Generally, the quickest route to licensure is a combination of 4 years of college, up to 4 years of experience under the supervision of an experienced surveyor (a few States do not require any such experience), and passing the licensing examinations. An increasing number of States require a bachelorís degree in surveying or in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry (with courses in surveying), regardless of the number of years of experience. Many states also have a continuing education requirement.
High school students interested in surveying should take courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, drafting, mechanical drawing, and computer science. High school graduates with no formal training in surveying usually start as apprentices. Beginners with postsecondary school training in surveying usually can start as technicians or assistants. With on-the-job experience and formal training in surveyingeither in an institutional program or from a correspondence schoolworkers may advance to senior survey technician, then to party chief, and, in some cases, to licensed surveyor (depending on State licensing requirements).
The National Society of Professional Surveyors, a member organization of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, has a voluntary certification program for surveying technicians. Technicians are certified at four levels requiring progressive amounts of experience, in addition to the passing of written examinations. Although not required for State licensure, many employers require certification for promotion to positions with greater responsibilities.
Surveyors should have the ability to visualize objects, distances, sizes, and abstract forms. They must work with precision and accuracy, because mistakes can be costly. Members of a survey party must be in good physical condition, because they work outdoors and often carry equipment over difficult terrain. They need good eyesight, coordination, and hearing to communicate verbally and manually (using hand signals). Surveying is a cooperative operation, so good interpersonal skills and the ability to work as part of a team are important. Good office skills also are essential, because surveyors must be able to research old deeds and other legal papers and prepare reports that document their work.
Cartographers and photogrammetrists usually have a bachelorís degree in a field such as engineering, forestry, geography, or a physical science. Although it is possible to enter these positions through previous experience as a photogrammetric or cartographic technician, nowadays most cartographic and photogrammetric technicians have had some specialized postsecondary school training. With the development of GIS, cartographers and photogrammetrists need additional education and stronger technical skillsincluding more experience with computersthan in the past.
The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing has a voluntary certification program for photogrammetrists. To qualify for this professional distinction, individuals must meet work experience standards and pass an oral or a written examination.
Overall employment of surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying technicians is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2012. The widespread availability and use of advanced technologies, such as GPS, GIS, and remote sensing, will continue to increase both the accuracy and productivity of these workers, resulting in modest overall growth in employment. However, job openings will continue to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or who leave the labor force altogether.
Employment of surveying and mapping technicians is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2012. The short training period needed to learn to operate the equipment, the current lack of any formal testing or licensing, the growing demand for people to do basic GIS-related data-entry work, and relatively lower wages all encourage demand for these technicians. However, many persons possess the basic skills needed to qualify for the jobs that are available, so competition for job openings may result.
As technologies become more complex, opportunities will be best for surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists who have at least a bachelorís degree and strong technical skills. Increasing demand for geographic data, as opposed to traditional surveying services, will mean better opportunities for cartographers and photogrammetrists who are involved in the development and use of geographic and land information systems. New technologies, such as GPS and GIS, also may enhance employment opportunities for surveyors, as well as for those surveying technicians who have the educational background and who have acquired technical skills that enable them to work with the new systems. At the same time, upgraded licensing requirements will continue to limit opportunities for professional advancement for those without bachelorís degrees.
Opportunities for surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists should remain concentrated in architectural, engineering, and related services firms. However, nontraditional areas, such as urban planning, emergency preparedness, and natural resource exploration and mapping, also should provide employment growth, particularly with regard to producing maps for the management of emergencies and updating maps with the newly available technology. Continued growth in construction through 2012 will require surveyors to lay out streets, shopping centers, housing developments, factories, office buildings, and recreation areas, while setting aside flood plains, wetlands, wildlife habitats, and environmentally sensitive areas for protection. However, employment may fluctuate from year to year along with construction activity or with mapping needs for land and resource management.
Median annual earnings of cartographers and photogrammetrists were $42,870 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $32,580 and $55,610. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,810 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $69,320.
Median annual earnings of surveyors were $39,970 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $29,320 and $53,440. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $67,700. Median hourly earnings of surveyors employed in architectural, engineering, and related services were $38,370 in 2002.
Median annual earnings of surveying and mapping technicians were $29,230 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $22,640 and $39,070 in 2002. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,490, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48,970. Median annual earnings of surveying and mapping technicians employed in architectural, engineering, and related services were $27,130 in 2002, while those employed by local governments had median annual earnings of $33,680.
In 2003, land surveyors in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions in the Federal Government earned an average salary of $62,980; cartographers, $67,989; geodetic technicians, $55,374; surveying technicians, $33,316; and cartographic technicians, $43,517.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition,
Surveyors, Cartographers, , on the Internet at
(visited July 09, 2004).