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Three groups of workers measure and map the earth's surface. Land surveyors establish official land, air space, and water boundaries. They write descriptions of land for deeds, leases, and other legal documents; define air space for airports; and measure construction and mineral sites. Survey technicians, assist land surveyors by operating survey instruments and collecting information. Mapping scientists and other surveyors collect geographic information and prepare maps of large areas.
Land surveyors manage survey parties that measure distances, directions, and angles between points and elevations of points, lines, and contours on the earth's 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 and look for evidence of previous boundaries. They record the results of the survey, verify the accuracy of data, and prepare plats, maps, and reports. Surveyors who establish boundaries must be licensed by the State in which they work.
The information needed by the land surveyor is gathered by a survey party. A typical survey party is made up of a party chief and several survey technicians and helpers. The party chief, who may be either a land surveyor or a senior survey technician, leads the day-to-day work activities. The party chief is assisted by survey technicians, who adjust and operate surveying instruments such as the theodolite (used to measure horizontal and vertical angles) and electronic distance-measuring equipment. Survey technicians or assistants position and hold the vertical rods or targets that the theodolite operator sights on to measure angles, distances, or elevations. They may also hold measuring tapes and chains if electronic distance-measuring equipment is not used. Survey technicians compile notes, make sketches, and enter the data obtained from these instruments into computers. Some survey parties include laborers or helpers to clear brush from sight lines, drive stakes, carry equipment, and perform other less skilled duties.
New technology is changing the nature of the work of surveyors and survey technicians. For larger surveying projects, surveyors are increasingly using the Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite system which precisely locates points on the earth using radio signals transmitted by satellites. To use it, a surveyor places a satellite receiver-about the size of a backpack-on a desired point. The receiver collects information from several differently positioned satellites simultaneously to locate its precise position. Two receivers are generally operated in synchronization, one at a known point and the other at the unknown point. The receiver can also be placed in a vehicle to trace out road systems, or for other uses. The cost of the receivers has fallen and much more surveying work is being done by GPS.
Mapping scientists, like land surveyors, measure, map, and chart the earth's surface but generally cover much larger areas. Unlike land surveyors, however, mapping scientists work mainly in offices and seldom visit the sites they are mapping. Mapping scientists include workers in several occupations. Cartographers prepare maps using information provided by geodetic surveys, aerial photographs, and satellite data. Photogrammetrists prepare maps and drawings by measuring and interpreting aerial photographs, using analytical processes and mathematical formulas. Photogrammetrists make detailed maps of areas that are inaccessible or difficult to survey by other methods. Map editors develop and verify map contents from aerial photographs and other reference sources.
Some surveyors perform specialized functions which are closer to mapping science than traditional surveying. Geodetic surveyors use high-accuracy techniques, including satellite observations, to measure large areas of the earth's surface. Geophysical prospecting surveyors mark sites for subsurface exploration, usually petroleum related. Marine surveyors survey harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water to determine shorelines, topography of the bottom, water depth, and other features.
The work of mapping scientists is changing due to advancements in technology. These advancements include the GPS, Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-which are computerized data banks of spatial data-new earth resources data satellites, and improved aerial photography. From the older specialties of photogrammetrist or cartographer, a new type of mapping scientist is emerging. The geographic information specialist combines the functions of mapping science and surveying into a broader field concerned with the collection and analysis of geographic spatial information.
Surveyors usually work an 8-hour day, 5 days a week, and spend a lot of their time outdoors. Sometimes they work longer hours during the summer, when weather and light conditions are most suitable for fieldwork.
Land surveyors and technicians do active and sometimes strenuous work. They often stand for long periods, walk long distances, and climb hills with heavy packs of instruments and equipment. They are also exposed to all types of weather. Occasionally, they may commute long distances, stay overnight, or even temporarily relocate near a survey site.
Surveyors also spend considerable time in offices, planning surveys, analyzing data, and preparing reports and maps. Most computations and map drafting are performed on a computer. Mapping scientists spend virtually all their time in offices.
Surveyors held about 96,000 jobs in 1994. Engineering, architectural, and surveying firms employed over three-fifths of all surveyors. Federal, State, and local government agencies employed an additional quarter. Major Federal Government employers are the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Defense Mapping Agency. 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 public utilities also employ surveyors. About 7,000 surveyors were self-employed in 1994.
Most people prepare for a career as a licensed surveyor by combining postsecondary school courses in surveying with extensive on-the-job training. About 25 universities 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 license land surveyors. For licensure, most State licensing boards require that individuals pass two written examinations, one prepared by the State and one given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. In addition, they must meet varying standards of formal education and work experience in the field. In the past, many surveyors started as members of survey crews and worked their way up to licensed surveyor with little formal training in surveying. However, due to advancing technology and an increase in licensing standards, formal education requirements are increasing. Most States at the present time require some formal post-high school education coursework and 10 to 12 years of surveying experience to gain licensure. However, requirements vary among the States. Generally, the quickest route to licensure is a combination of 4 years of college, 2 to 4 years of experience (a few States do not require any), and passing the licensing examinations. An increasing number of States require a bachelor's degree in surveying or in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry, with courses in surveying.
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 an apprentice. Beginners with postsecondary school training in surveying can generally start as technicians or assistants. With on-the-job experience and formal training in surveying-either in an institutional program or from a correspondence school-workers may advance to senior survey technician, then to party chief, and in some cases, to licensed surveyor (depending on State licensing requirements).
The American Congress on Surveying and Mapping has a voluntary certification program for survey technicians. Technicians are certified at four levels that require progressive amounts of experience and passing written examinations. Although not required for State licensure, many employers require certification for promotion to positions with greater responsibilities.
Cartographers and photogrammetrists usually have a bachelor's degree in engineering or a physical science. It also is possible to enter these positions through previous experience as a photogrammetric or cartographic technician. Most cartographic and photogrammetric technicians have had some specialized postsecondary school training. With the development of Geographic Information Systems, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and other mapping scientists need additional education and more experience with computers than in the past.
The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing has voluntary certification programs for photogrammetrists and mapping scientists. To qualify for these professional distinctions, individuals must meet work experience standards and pass an oral or written examination.
Surveyors should have the ability to visualize objects, distances, sizes, and other abstract forms. They have to work with precision and accuracy because mistakes can be costly. Surveying is a cooperative process, so good interpersonal skills and the ability to work as part of a team are important. Leadership qualities are important for party chief and other supervisory positions.
Members of a survey party must be in good physical condition to work outdoors and carry equipment over difficult terrain. They need good eyesight, coordination, and hearing to communicate via hand and voice signals.
Employment of surveyors is expected to decline slightly through the year 2005. The widespread use of GPS and remote sensing technologies is increasing both the accuracy and productivity of surveyors. Job openings will result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Growth in construction through the year 2005 should require surveyors to lay out streets, shopping centers, housing developments, factories, office buildings, and recreation areas. Continuing road and highway construction and improvements should also require surveyors. However, employment may fluctuate from year to year along with construction activity.
The employment of mapping scientists and other surveyors by private firms, and the Federal Government is expected to decline due to budget cutbacks and technological efficiency.
Opportunities will be best for surveyors and mapping scientists who have at least a bachelor's degree as a result of trends towards more complex technology, upgraded licensing requirements, and the increased demand for geographic spatial data (as opposed to traditional surveying services). New technology such as GPS and GIS may increase productivity for larger projects and may enhance employment opportunities for surveyors and survey technicians who have the educational background to use it, but limit opportunities for those with less education.
The median weekly earnings for surveyors and mapping scientists were about $590 a week in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $420 and $840 a week; 10 percent earned less than $340 a week; 10 percent earned more than $950 a week.
The median annual earnings for survey technicians were about $520 a week in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $390 and $750 a week; 10 percent earned less than $300 a week; 10 percent earned more than $960 a week.
In 1995, The Federal Government hired high school graduates with little or no training or experience at salaries or about $15,800 annually for entry level jobs on survey crews. Those with 1 year of related postsecondary training earned about $18,500 a year. Those with an associate degree that included coursework in surveying generally started as instrument assistants with an annual salary of about $21,300. In 1995, entry level land surveyors or cartographers with the Federal Government earned about $24,500 or $29,900 a year, depending on their qualifications. The average annual salary for Federal land surveyors in 1995 was about $44,200, for cartographers, about $47,700, and for geodesists, about $50,200. The average annual salary for Federal surveying technicians was about $24,400, for cartographic technicians, about $332,100, and for geodetic technicians, about $40,900.
Surveying is related to the work of civil engineers and architects, since an accurate survey is the first step in land development and construction projects. Mapping science and geodetic surveying are related to the work of geologists and geophysicists, who study the earth's internal composition, surface, and atmosphere. Mapping science is also related to the work of geographers and urban planners, who study how the earth's surface is used.
Information about career opportunities, licensure requirements, and the survey technician certification program is available from:
American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, 5410 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814-2122.
General information on careers in photogrammetry is available from:
American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 5410 Grosvenor Lane, Suite 200, Bethesda, MD 20814.
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