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Two Surveyors, Education And Training, For More InformationSalary, Outlook

If you like to read maps and can visualize them in three dimensions, you might have the aptitude to be a surveyor. Surveyors measure distances, directions, and angles on the earth's surface. They calculate elevations (mountains) and depressions (valleys). They mark boundaries for landowners, and they record the results of their surveys for cartographers. Before a new housing development, shopping center, or sports arena can be built, the land must be surveyed.

The most important tool for surveyors is geomatics—a combination of geometry and mathematics. Geomatics software has changed surveying dramatically in the last ten years. Today's surveyors spend more time in front of their computers than in the field. Simulation programs create virtual landscapes, and information from satellites (teledetection) fills in the gaps. Teledetection works via GPS, the Global Positioning System. GPS is made up of a group of twenty-four satellites orbiting Earth. From their signals, it is possible to pinpoint the exact location of anyone or anything containing a remote sensing device. These devices appear routinely in new cars and are small enough to be carried by hikers.

EROS, Earth Resources Observation System, is the ambitious program from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA. By way of GPS satellites, USGS is surveying and mapping the entire earth, with the cooperative efforts of surveyors and cartographers worldwide. A key element in this project is the satellite Landsat7. The data collected can be searched online through Earth Explore (a fee-based service). It can be accessed quickly in times of emergency, such as a flood, volcano eruption, or major oil spill.

NASA oversees a similar, more comprehensive, program called EOS, Earth Observing System. This project tracks major concerns of earth scientists, such as global warming and holes in the ozone layer. It studies the earth as a complete environmental system.

Photogrammetry is an important part of both surveys. It is the piecing together of aerial photographs—some from airplanes, some from satellites—to reconstruct the geography of an area. Photogrammetry is a tool used frequently by survey technicians.

When they are in the field, survey technicians work as part of a team under the direction of a licensed surveyor. They use traditional equipment, such as a theodolite (an instrument with a telescopic site that measures horizontal and vertical angles), and make notations. Later, they use a CAD system to plot coordinates and draw a map of what they've measured.

Surveying jobs are most frequently found with national, state, provincial, and local government agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). Surveying technicians can also find work in construction firms, with mining, oil and gas companies, and with public utility companies. Those who choose government service must take a civil service exam or the equivalent before being hired.


The starting pay for surveyor technicians averages $12 per hour in the private sector and $13.50 per hour in government service. It is possible to advance with experience and the assumption of responsibility.


There will continue to be a moderate demand for surveyors skilled in using geomatics software and geographic imaging systems.

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