Geodesy
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Geodesy (pronounced /dʒi˝ˈɒdɪsi/^{[1]}), also called geodetics, a branch of earth sciences, is the scientific discipline that deals with the measurement and representation of the Earth, including its gravitational field, in a threedimensional timevarying space. Geodesists also study geodynamical phenomena such as crustal motion, tides, and polar motion. For this they design global and national control networks, using space and terrestrial techniques while relying on datums and coordinate systems.
Contents
 1 Definition
 2 History
 3 Geoid and reference ellipsoid
 4 Coordinate systems in space
 5 Heights
 6 Geodetic data
 7 Point positioning
 8 Geodetic problems
 9 Geodetic observational concepts
 10 Geodetic measurements
 11 Units and measures on the ellipsoid
 12 Temporal change
 13 Famous geodesists
 14 International organizations
 15 Governmental agencies
 16 See also
 17 Notes
 18 References
 19 External links
Definition
Geodesy (from Greek γεωδαισία – geodaisia, lit. "division of the Earth") is primarily concerned with positioning within the temporally varying gravity field. Somewhat obsolete nowadays, geodesy in the German speaking world is divided into "Higher Geodesy" ("Erdmessung" or "höhere Geodäsie"), which is concerned with measuring the Earth on the global scale, and "Practical Geodesy" or "Engineering Geodesy" ("Ingenieurgeodäsie"), which is concerned with measuring specific parts or regions of the Earth, and which includes surveying.
The shape of the Earth is to a large extent the result of its rotation, which causes its equatorial bulge, and the competition of geological processes such as the collision of plates and of vulcanism, resisted by the Earth's gravity field. This applies to the solid surface, the liquid surface (dynamic sea surface topography) and the Earth's atmosphere. For this reason, the study of the Earth's gravity field is called physical geodesy by some.
History
Geoid and reference ellipsoid
The geoid is essentially the figure of the Earth abstracted from its topographical features. It is an idealized equilibrium surface of sea water, the level surface in the absence of currents, air pressure variations etc. and continued under the continental masses. The geoid, unlike ellipsoid, is irregular and too complicated to serve as the computational surface on which to solve geometrical problems like point positioning. The geometrical separation between the geoid and the reference ellipsoid is called the geoidal undulation. It varies globally between ±110 m.
A reference ellipsoid, customarily chosen to be the same size (volume) as the geoid, is described by its semimajor axis (equatorial radius) a and flattening f. The quantity f = (a−b)/a, where b is the semiminor axis (polar radius), is a purely geometrical one. The mechanical ellipticity of the Earth (dynamical flattening, symbol J_{2}) can be determined to high precision by observation of satellite orbit perturbations. Its relationship with the geometrical flattening is indirect. The relationship depends on the internal density distribution, or, in simplest terms, the degree of central concentration of mass.
The 1980 Geodetic Reference System (GRS80) posited a 6,378,137 m semimajor axis and a 1:298.257 flattening. This system was adopted at the XVII General Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). It is essentially the basis for geodetic positioning by the Global Positioning System and is thus also in extremely widespread use outside the geodetic community.
The numerous other systems which have been used by diverse countries for their maps and charts are gradually dropping out of use as more and more countries move to global, geocentric reference systems using the GRS80 reference ellipsoid.
Coordinate systems in space
The locations of points in threedimensional space are most conveniently described by three cartesian or rectangular coordinates, and . Since the advent of satellite positioning, such coordinate systems are typically geocentric: the axis is aligned with the Earth's (conventional or instantaneous) rotation axis.
Prior to satellite geodesy era, the coordinate systems associated with a geodetic datum attempted to be geocentric, but their origins differed from the geocentre by hundreds of metres, due to regional deviations in the direction of the plumbline (vertical). These regional geodetic datums, such as ED50 (European Datum 1950) or NAD83 (North American Datum 1983) have ellipsoids associated with them that are regional 'best fits' to the geoids within their areas of validity, minimising the deflections of the vertical over these areas.
It is only because GPS satellites orbit about the geocentre, that this point becomes naturally the origin of a coordinate system defined by satellite geodetic means, as the satellite positions in space are themselves computed in such a system.
Geocentric coordinate systems used in geodesy can be divided naturally into two classes:
 Inertial reference systems, where the coordinate axes retain their orientation relative to the fixed stars, or equivalently, to the rotation axes of ideal gyroscopes; the axis points to the vernal equinox
 Corotating, also ECEF ("Earth Centred, Earth Fixed"), where the axes are attached to the solid body of the Earth. The axis lies within the Greenwich observatory's meridian plane.
The coordinate transformation between these two systems is described to good approximation by (apparent) sidereal time, which takes into account variations in the Earth's axial rotation (lengthofday variations). A more accurate description also takes polar motion into account, a phenomenon closely monitored by geodesists.
Coordinate systems in the plane
In surveying and mapping, important fields of application of geodesy, two general types of coordinate systems are used in the plane:
 Planopolar, in which points in a plane are defined by a distance from a specified point along a ray having a specified direction with respect to a base line or axis;
 Rectangular, points are defined by distances from two perpendicular axes called and . It is geodetic practice—contrary to the mathematical convention—to let the axis point to the North and the axis to the East.
Rectangular coordinates in the plane can be used intuitively with respect to one's current location, in which case the axis will point to the local North. More formally, such coordinates can be obtained from threedimensional coordinates using the artifice of a map projection. It is not possible to map the curved surface of the Earth onto a flat map surface without deformation. The compromise most often chosen—called a conformal projection—preserves angles and length ratios, so that small circles are mapped as small circles and small squares as squares.
An example of such a projection is UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator). Within the map plane, we have rectangular coordinates and . In this case the North direction used for reference is the map North, not the local North. The difference between the two is called meridian convergence.
It is easy enough to "translate" between polar and rectangular coordinates in the plane: let, as above, direction and distance be and respectively, then we have
The reverse transformation is given by:
Heights
In geodesy, point or terrain heights are "above level", an irregular, physically defined surface. Therefore a height should ideally not be referred to as a coordinate. It is more like a physical quantity, and though it can be tempting to treat height as the vertical coordinate , in addition to the horizontal coordinates and , and though this actually is a good approximation of physical reality in small areas, it quickly becomes invalid for regional considerations. Heights come in the following variants:
 Orthometric heights
 Normal heights
 Geopotential heights
Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Both orthometric and normal heights are heights in metres above sea level, whereas geopotential numbers are measures of potential energy (unit: m² s^{−2}) and not metric. Orthometric and normal heights differ in the precise way in which mean sea level is conceptually continued under the continental masses. The reference surface for orthometric heights is the geoid, an equipotential surface approximating mean sea level.
None of these heights is in any way related to geodetic or ellipsoidial heights, which express the height of a point above the reference ellipsoid. Satellite positioning receivers typically provide ellipsoidal heights, unless they are fitted with special conversion software based on a model of the geoid.
Geodetic data
Because geodetic point coordinates (and heights) are always obtained in a system that has been constructed itself using real observations, geodesists introduce the concept of a geodetic datum: a physical realization of a coordinate system used for describing point locations. The realization is the result of choosing conventional coordinate values for one or more datum points.
In the case of height datums, it suffices to choose one datum point: the reference bench mark, typically a tide gauge at the shore. Thus we have vertical datums like the NAP (Normaal Amsterdams Peil), the North American Vertical Datum 1988 (NAVD88), the Kronstadt datum, the Trieste datum, and so on.
In case of plane or spatial coordinates, we typically need several datum points. A regional, ellipsoidal datum like ED50 can be fixed by prescribing the undulation of the geoid and the deflection of the vertical in one datum point, in this case the Helmert Tower in Potsdam. However, an overdetermined ensemble of datum points can also be used.
Changing the coordinates of a point set referring to one datum, so to make them refer to another datum, is called a datum transformation. In the case of vertical datums, this consists of simply adding a constant shift to all height values. In the case of plane or spatial coordinates, datum transformation takes the form of a similarity or Helmert transformation, consisting of a rotation and scaling operation in addition to a simple translation. In the plane, a Helmert transformation has four parameters; in space, seven.
A note on terminology
In the abstract, a coordinate system as used in mathematics and geodesy is, e.g., in ISO terminology, referred to as a coordinate system. International geodetic organizations like the IERS (International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service) speak of a reference system.
When these coordinates are realized by choosing datum points and fixing a geodetic datum, ISO uses the terminology coordinate reference system, while IERS speaks of a reference frame. A datum transformation again is referred to by ISO as a coordinate transformation. (ISO 19111: Spatial referencing by coordinates).
Point positioning
Point positioning is the determination of the coordinates of a point on land, at sea, or in space with respect to a coordinate system. Point position is solved by computation from measurements linking the known positions of terrestrial or extraterrestrial points with the unknown terrestrial position. This may involve transformations between or among astronomical and terrestrial coordinate systems.
The known points used for point positioning can be triangulation points of a higher order network, or GPS satellites.
Traditionally, a hierarchy of networks has been built to allow point positioning within a country. Highest in the hierarchy were triangulation networks. These were densified into networks of traverses (polygons), into which local mapping surveying measurements, usually with measuring tape, corner prism and the familiar red and white poles, are tied.
Nowadays all but special measurements (e.g., underground or high precision engineering measurements) are performed with GPS. The higher order networks are measured with static GPS, using differential measurement to determine vectors between terrestrial points. These vectors are then adjusted in traditional network fashion. A global polyhedron of permanently operating GPS stations under the auspices of the IERS is used to define a single global, geocentric reference frame which serves as the "zero order" global reference to which national measurements are attached.
For surveying mappings, frequently Real Time Kinematic GPS is employed, tying in the unknown points with known terrestrial points close by in real time.
One purpose of point positioning is the provision of known points for mapping measurements, also known as (horizontal and vertical) control. In every country, thousands of such known points exist and are normally documented by the national mapping agencies. Surveyors involved in real estate and insurance will use these to tie their local measurements to.
Geodetic problems
In geometric geodesy, two standard problems exist:
First geodetic problem
 Given a point (in terms of its coordinates) and the direction (azimuth) and distance from that point to a second point, determine (the coordinates of) that second point.
Second (inverse) geodetic problem
 Given two points, determine the azimuth and length of the line (straight line, arc or geodesic) that connects them.
In the case of plane geometry (valid for small areas on the Earth's surface) the solutions to both problems reduce to simple trigonometry. On the sphere, the solution is significantly more complex, e.g., in the inverse problem the azimuths will differ between the two end points of the connecting great circle, arc, i.e. the geodesic.
On the ellipsoid of revolution, geodesics may be written in terms of elliptic integrals, which are usually evaluated in terms of a series expansion; for example, see Vincenty's formulae.
In the general case, the solution is called the geodesic for the surface considered. The differential equations for the geodesic can be solved numerically.
Geodetic observational concepts
Here we define some basic observational concepts, like angles and coordinates, defined in geodesy (and astronomy as well), mostly from the viewpoint of the local observer.
 The plumbline or vertical is the direction of local gravity, or the line that results by following it. It is slightly curved.
 The zenith is the point on the celestial sphere where the direction of the gravity vector in a point, extended upwards, intersects it. More correct is to call it a <direction> rather than a point.
 The nadir is the opposite point (or rather, direction), where the direction of gravity extended downward intersects the (invisible) celestial sphere.
 The celestial horizon is a plane perpendicular to a point's gravity vector.
 Azimuth is the direction angle within the plane of the horizon, typically counted clockwise from the North (in geodesy and astronomy) or South (in France).
 Elevation is the angular height of an object above the horizon, Alternatively zenith distance, being equal to 90 degrees minus elevation.
 Local topocentric coordinates are azimuth (direction angle within the plane of the horizon) and elevation angle (or zenith angle) and distance.
 The North celestial pole is the extension of the Earth's (precessing and nutating) instantaneous spin axis extended Northward to intersect the celestial sphere. (Similarly for the South celestial pole.)
 The celestial equator is the intersection of the (instantaneous) Earth equatorial plane with the celestial sphere.
 A meridian plane is any plane perpendicular to the celestial equator and containing the celestial poles.
 The local meridian is the plane containing the direction to the zenith and the direction to the celestial pole.
Geodetic measurements
The level is used for determining height differences and height reference systems, commonly referred to level. The traditional spirit level produces these practically most useful heights above sea level directly; the more economical use of GPS instruments for height determination requires precise knowledge of the figure of the geoid, as GPS only gives heights above the GRS80 reference ellipsoid. As geoid knowledge accumulates, one may expect use of GPS heighting to spread.
The theodolite is used to measure horizontal and vertical angles to target points. These angles are referred to the local vertical. The tacheometer additionally determines, electronically or electrooptically, the distance to target, and is highly automated to even robotic in its operations. The method of free station position is widely used.
For local detail surveys, tacheometers are commonly employed although the oldfashioned rectangular technique using angle prism and steel tape is still an inexpensive alternative. Realtime kinematic (RTK) GPS techniques are used as well. Data collected are tagged and recorded digitally for entry into a Geographic Information System (GIS) database.
Geodetic GPS receivers produce directly threedimensional coordinates in a geocentric coordinate frame. Such a frame is, e.g., WGS84, or the frames that are regularly produced and published by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS).
GPS receivers have almost completely replaced terrestrial instruments for largescale base network surveys. For Planetwide geodetic surveys, previously impossible, we can still mention Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) and Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) and Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) techniques. All these techniques also serve to monitor Earth rotation irregularities as well as plate tectonic motions.
Gravity is measured using gravimeters. Basically, there are two kinds of gravimeters. Absolute gravimeters, which nowadays can also be used in the field, are based directly on measuring the acceleration of free fall (for example, of a reflecting prism in a vacuum tube). They are used for establishing the vertical geospatial control. Most common relative gravimeters are spring based. They are used in gravity surveys over large areas for establishing the figure of the geoid over these areas. Most accurate relative gravimeters are superconducting gravimeters, and these are sensitive to one thousandth of one billionth of the Earth surface gravity. Twentysome superconducting gravimeters are used worldwide for studying Earth tides, rotation, interior, and ocean and atmospheric loading, as well as for verifying the Newtonian constant of gravitation.
Units and measures on the ellipsoid
Geographical latitude and longitude are stated in the units degree, minute of arc, and second of arc. They are angles, not metric measures, and describe the direction of the local normal to the reference ellipsoid of revolution. This is approximately the same as the direction of the plumbline, i.e., local gravity, which is also the normal to the geoid surface. For this reason, astronomical position determination – measuring the direction of the plumbline by astronomical means – works fairly well provided an ellipsoidal model of the figure of the Earth is used.
One geographical mile, defined as one minute of arc on the equator, equals 1,855.32571922 m. One nautical mile is one minute of astronomical latitude. The radius of curvature of the ellipsoid varies with latitude, being the longest at the pole and the shortest at the equator as is the nautical mile.
A metre was originally defined as the 40millionth part of the length of a meridian (the target wasn't quite reached in actual implementation, so that is off by 0.02% in the current definitions). This means that one kilometre is roughly equal to (1/40,000) * 360 * 60 meridional minutes of arc, which equals 0.54 nautical mile, though this is not exact because the two units are defined on different bases (the international nautical mile is defined as exactly 1,852 m, corresponding to a rounding of 1000/0.54 m to four digits).
Temporal change
In geodesy, temporal change can be studied by a variety of techniques. Points on the Earth's surface change their location due to a variety of mechanisms:
 Continental plate motion, plate tectonics
 Episodic motion of tectonic origin, esp. close to fault lines
 Periodic effects due to Earth tides
 Postglacial land uplift due to isostatic adjustment
 Various anthropogenic movements due to, for instance, petroleum or water extraction or reservoir construction.
The science of studying deformations and motions of the Earth's crust and the solid Earth as a whole is called geodynamics. Often, study of the Earth's irregular rotation is also included in its definition.
Techniques for studying geodynamic phenomena on the global scale include:
 satellite positioning by GPS and other such systems,
 Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI)
 satellite and lunar laser ranging
 Regionally and locally, precise levelling,
 precise tacheometers,
 monitoring of gravity change,
 Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) using satellite images, etc.
Famous geodesists
Mathematical Geodesists before 1900
 Pythagoras 580–490 BC, ancient Greece^{[2]}
 Eratosthenes 276–194 BC, ancient Greece
 Posidonius ca.135–51 BC, ancient Greece
 Claudius Ptolemy 83–c.168 AD, Roman Empire (Roman Egypt)
 Abu Rayhan Biruni 973–1048, Khwarezm (Iran/Persia)^{[3]}^{[4]}
 Sir George Biddell Airy 1801–1892, Cambridge & London
 Muhammad alIdrisi 1100–1166, (Arabia & Sicily)
 AlMa'mun 786–833, Baghdad (Iraq/Mesopotamia)
 Pedro Nunes 1502–1578 Portugal
 Gerhard Mercator 1512–1594 (Belgium & Germany)
 Snellius (Willebrord Snel van Royen) 1580–1626, Leiden (Netherlands)
 Christiaan Huygens 1629–1695 (Netherlands)
 Pierre de Maupertuis 1698–1759 (France)
 Pierre Bouguer 1698–1758, (France & Peru)
 Jean Henri Lambert 1728–1777 (France)
 Alexis Clairaut 1713–1765 (France)
 Johann Jacob Baeyer 1794–1885, Berlin (Germany)
 Karl Maximilian von Bauernfeind, Munich (Germany)
 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, Königsberg (Germany)
 Roger Joseph Boscovich, Rome/ Berlin/ Paris
 Heinrich Bruns 1848–1919, Berlin (Germany)
 Alexander Ross Clarke, London (England)
 Loránd Eötvös 1848–1919 (Hungary)
 Sir George Everest 1830–1843 (England & India)
 Hervé Faye 1814–1902 (France)
 Abel Foullon (France)
 Carl Friedrich Gauß 1777–1855, Göttingen (Germany)
 Friedrich Robert Helmert, Potsdam (Germany)
 Hipparchus, Nicosia (Greece)
 PierreSimon Laplace 1749–1827, Paris (France)
 Adrien Marie Legendre 1752–1833, Paris (France)
 Johann Benedikt Listing 1808–1882 (Germany)
 Friedrich H. C. Paschen, Schwerin (Germany)
 Charles Sanders Peirce 1839–1914 (United States)
 Henri Poincaré, Paris (France)
 J. H. Pratt 1809–1871, London (England)
 Regiomontanus (Germany/Austria)
 Georg von Reichenbach 1771–1826, Bavaria (Germany)
 Heinrich Christian Schumacher 1780–1850 (Germany & Estonia)
 Johann Georg von Soldner 1776–1833, Munich (Germany)
 George Gabriel Stokes (England)
 Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve 1793–1864, Dorpat and Pulkowa/St.Petersburg (Russia)
20th century
 Arne Bjerhammar, 191672011 (Sweden)
 William Bowie, 1872–1940 (USA)
 John Fillmore Hayford, 18681925 (USA)
 Veikko Aleksanteri Heiskanen, 1895–1971 (Finland & USA)
 Friedrich Hopfner, 18811949 (Austria)
 Harold Jeffreys, 18911989 (England)
 KarlRudolf Koch, 1935 (Germany)
 Mikhail Sergeevich Molodenskii, 1909–1991 (Russia)
 John A. O'Keefe, 1916–2000 (USA)
 Karl Ramsayer, 19111982 (Germany)
 Hellmut Schmid, 19141998 (Switzerland)
 Petr Vaníĝek, 1935 (Canada)
 Yrjö Väisälä, 1889–1971 (Finland)
 Felix Andries VeningMeinesz, 1887–1966 (Netherlands)
 Thaddeus Vincenty, 19202002 (Poland)
 Alfred Wegener, 1880–1930 (Germany & Greenland)
International organizations
 International Association of Geodesy (IAG)
 International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG)
 Fédération Internationale des Géomètres (FIG)
 European Petroleum Survey Group (EPSG) (which despite being officially disbanded in 2005 continues to refine a well tested set of Geodetic Parameters)
Governmental agencies
 National Geodetic Survey (NGS), Silver Spring MD, USA
 National GeospatialIntelligence Agency (NGA), Bethesda MD, USA (Previously National Imagery and Mapping Agency NIMA, previously Defense Mapping Agency DMA)
 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Reston VA, USA
 Institut Géographique National (IGN), SaintMandé, France
 Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie (BKG), Frankfurt a. M., Germany (Previously Institut für Angewandte Geodäsie, IfAG)
 Central Research Institute for Geodesy, Remote Sensing and Cartography (CNIIGAIK), Moscow, Russia
 Geodetic Survey Division, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, Canada
 Geoscience Australia, Australian Federal Agency
 Finnish Geodetic Institute (FGI), Masala, Finland
 Portuguese Geographic Institute (IGEO), Lisbon, Portugal
 Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics  IBGE
 Spanish National Geographic Institute (IGN), Madrid, Spain
 Land Information New Zealand.
 Geodesy Division of Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
Note: This list is still largely incomplete.
See also
Wikibooks has more on the topic of 
 Geomatics
 Physical geodesy
 Geophysics
 Surveying
 Geographical distance
 IAG
 ETRS89
 GNSS
 Important publications in geodesy
 History of geodesy
 Space techniques
 World Geodetic System, WGS 84
 Geodesic (in mathematics)
 Geodesic (in physics)
 Geodetic system
Notes
 ↑ OED
 ↑ DEFENSE MAPPING AGENCY TECHNICAL REPORT 80003
 ↑ H. Mowlana (2001). "Information in the Arab World", Cooperation South Journal 1.
 ↑ A. S. Ahmed (1984). "AlBeruni: The First Anthropologist", RAIN 60, p. 9–10.
References
 B. HofmannWellenhof and H. Moritz, Physical Geodesy, SpringerVerlag Wien, 2005. (This text is an updated edition of the 1967 classic by W.A. Heiskanen and H. Moritz).
 Vaníĝek P. and E.J. Krakiwsky, Geodesy: the Concepts, pp.714, Elsevier, 1986.
 Thomas H. Meyer, Daniel R. Roman, and David B. Zilkoski. "What does height really mean?" (This is a series of four articles published in Surveying and Land Information Science, SaLIS.)
 "Part I: Introduction" SaLIS Vol. 64, No. 4, pages 223–233, December 2004.
 "Part II: Physics and gravity" SaLIS Vol. 65, No. 1, pages 5–15, March 2005.
 "Part III: Height systems" SaLIS Vol. 66, No. 2, pages 149–160, June 2006.
 "Part IV: GPS heighting" SaLIS Vol. 66, No. 3, pages 165–183, September 2006.
External links
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Geodesy 
 International Association of Geodesy (IAG).
 The Geodesy Page.
 Geodesy and Geomatics Home Page
 Welcome to Geodesy
 MapRef.org: The Collection of Map Projections and Reference Systems for Europe
 GeometricalGeodesy software for Geodesy calculations
 Pennsylvania Geospatial Data Sharing Standard  Geodesy and Geodetic Monumentation
 References on Absolute Gravimeters
 Vincenty's Direct and Inverse Solutions of Geodesics on the Ellipsoid, in JavaScript
 Vincenty's Solution of Geodesics on the Ellipsoid, in C#
 Vincenty's Solution of Geodesics on the Ellipsoid, in Java
 GeographicLib provides a utility Geod (with source code) for solving direct and inverse geodesic problems. Compared to Vincenty's_formulae, this is about 1000 times more accurate (error = 15 nm) and the inverse solution is complete.
 EarthScope Project
 UNAVCO  EarthScope  Plate Boundary Observatory
 Polish Internet Informant of Geodesy
