Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Arizona surveyors consider restricting use of GPS

Should only licensed surveyors and engineers be legally allowed to use high-precision GPS instruments to make maps in Arizona?

The Arizona Professional Land Surveyors (APLS) are circulating a 'white paper' entitled "Geospatial Debate" ( that questions who should be allowed to use sub-meter accuracy GPS units to map natural and man-made features. It was prepared in response to a complaint to the Arizona State Board of Technical Registration (SBTR) by a licensed surveyor protesting non-surveyors using such units. [above: AZGS geologists locating earth fissures in Maricopa County, using a sub-meter resolution GPS unit. Will surveyors have to oversee geologists mapping natural hazards like these?]

It falls on the heels of a recently dismissed federal lawsuit at the national level to restrict map making to surveyors and engineers (see my blogs on June 15 and May 14). In the wake of that contentious battle, earth scientists are wary.

The paper talks about the need for "... surveyors or engineers to take an aggressive and proactive stance against non registrants using this equipment [ ie, sub-meter GPS]..."

The paper does state that, "The GO Committee believes the best approach is to focus on the use of geospatial data and not on the licensing, registration or certification of geospatial professionals as a general rule. The Committee believes that whether geospatial data are used as an “authoritative” location of a boundary or geographic feature is the most relevant aspect of whether geospatial data must be developed by a registered professional."

But the options laid out for the APLS members to consider are to "do nothing,"
adopt model national restrictions, or adopt rules like those in Oregon that also include the national restrictions.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) model guidelines define land surveying as “… the making of geometric measurements and gathering related information pertaining to the physical or legal features of the earth, improvements on the earth, the space above, on, or below the earth… providing, utilizing, or developing the same into survey products such as graphics, data, maps, plans, reports, descriptions, or projects" [emphasis added].

Clearly this crosses over to the roles of geologists and others. APLS is preparing to develop recommendations to take to the SBTR. Geologists need to get engaged in this debate.


  1. Anonymous7:44 AM

    Regarding the issue of high resolution surveys and the common person. There is no doubt that registered land surveyors do so at established standards accepted by professional engineers and the wide range of legal applications. But that is it. If I want to measure the locations, or the distance and bearing between 'legal' bench marks to a hundredth of an inch with high resolution GPS based equipment then so be it. But if I want to use the same bench marks to resolve a legal issue then a registered surveyor must be used. They will apply their skills with proper checks and balances established as standards by their peers and oversight organization with complete, explicit, and legally accepted documentation. It doesn't matter that the surveyor may derive the exact precision and accuracy measured by myself. It's the standards, documentation, and registration that bind the survey results to the legal system.

    The issue is: Enforcement of engineering and surveying standards in the legal arena.

  2. Anonymous11:17 AM

    It seems to me as a geologist that we should be allowed to use precision GPS data to provide geological information such as fault traces, mass wasting scars and such with no restrictions. Like the previous commenter, a registered surveyer should only resolve legal issues such as property lines and such. If access to high resolution GPS is restricted, it would severely impact the speed and precision of geological mapping. Let's keep surveyers associated with legal boundaries and let geologists map with the best tools available.

  3. I think that some people want to assume that the use of sub-meter GPS equipment automatically associates with work of critical importance and high risk. However, skilled and unlicensed workers have been using low tech measuring devices to obtain sub-meter measurements for generations.

    The regulations should not be tied to a measurment number such as sub-meter or to a category of equipment such as GPS. Instead they should be tied to how the data will be used. A license should be required to protect the public from poor measurements in critical situations.

    Lawmakers in Arizona need to be very careful in how they handle this. If they regulate by numbers the people of Arizona might need a commercial drivers license to take home more than $100 worth of groceries or pick up more than two kids after soccer practice.

  4. It sounds like 'sour grapes' to me.

  5. Anonymous7:29 AM

    As a geology student i dont think that "surveyors" have a right to say who can and cant use precision GPS.are surveyors out there mapping faults and others geologic features.

  6. Anonymous11:14 AM

    What about other sub-meter measuring equipment? Perhaps they should ban theodolites, or even tape measures and rulers.

  7. Bill from Cochise1:04 PM

    It appears to me as a geologist, that the best way to look at the uses of precision GPS is as follows:
    1. If the mapping involves Cadastral issues such as boundaries and the location of man-made features such as dams, bridges and roadways, then the data should be gathered and managed by a surveyor or engineer.
    2. If the mapping involves the location of natural features such as fault traces, mass wasting scars, or earth fissures then the geologist should be able to map these features with the highest precision available and appropriate to the problem.

    Both professions require GPS, which has been a tremendous help. Just try locating stratigraphic sections from publications in the 1970's for example and one can see how useful GPS would have been. If these suggested guidelines are followed in any proposed legislation, then both professions can use the best appropriate tools to serve the public. Service should be the guiding principle.

  8. Geologists creating geologic maps using GPS equipment has nothing to do with surveyors who perform duties to establish property boundaries. One is for scientific purposes and the other is for legal purposes of property rights. I don’t know of a geologist who has ever considered themselves a replacement to surveyors of property. This appears to be an unfounded fear that geologists could replace the surveyors. Well… a couple continuing education classes and a certification and sure, we can replace them. But that is not what we are trying to do nor want to do and the goals of a geologist are different than those of surveyors. This is one subject that if push comes to shove I think surveyors will lose. I am not trying to mark property boundaries, just locate a geologic contact; leave my GPS alone.

    RA Crouch

  9. Anonymous4:17 PM

    Yeah, this is a really good idea. Lets legislate to make sure the US Army can't use GPS equipment - I'm sure even geologists would go along with that.

  10. Anonymous9:39 AM

    All of those surveyors who argue for restrictions should restrict their field to individuals who have a four year degree in surveying/geomatics. Then they can be called professionals and may even have some authority then.

  11. Anonymous2:56 PM

    G. P. S.
    origenally just for wepon purposes. But greed for money changed that! Real land developers and original land surveys know its trapping us in ass backwards. Selling out due process for for quick money.
    Do you care for what your mapping?

  12. Anonymous3:20 PM

    Good Grief! I can't even believe that this is an issue. What's next? Are they going to march with the Luddites to destroy the sewing machines in Leicestershire?

  13. Anonymous2:42 PM

    It sounds like surveyors feel threatened and loosing grounds. Nobody has the right to legislate against the use of high precision GPS for collecting data for their own purpose and if one can afford it and can use it. They should think about how best they can utilize this equipment for their purpose and job instead of being focussed on the use of theodolites and chain and compass etc. GPS, GIS and remote sensing is the way to go and they should keep in touch with the changing technology.

  14. the doctor4:58 AM

    The "restricted" use of GPS units to a single profesion is ludicrous! Very few surveyors are geologists or structure specialists. Therefore, the only reason that is intutively obvious to the causal observer is the making of more money at the expense of the student and geologist.

  15. Anonymous8:28 AM

    I am a professional land surveyor who also has a degree in geology. Let me be blunt. Mapping a fault or other geologic information isn't the issue. Mapping a fault or other geographic information in relationship to boundaries is problematic. I am not competent, in terms of professional licensure, to prepare geologic maps. Geologists are not competent to prepare maps depicting boundaries. Those geologists who are, are also licensed as surveyors. There aren't many of those folks around.

    There is no logic to restricting the use of submeter GPS to surveyors. Survey grade GPS units generally produce sub-centimeter results. GIS folks, police departments, geolgists, biologists and others use these units for their purposes and I don't see that as a threat to earning a living.

    The problem, as I see it, is there are a lot of folks out there producing maps. Architects, engineers, geologists, GIS professional, etc. I would like to see the other professions held to the same standards as I am. It's not sour grapes, it's creating a level playing field. I don't see that happening. I haven't seen much encroachment into my profession from geologists. GIS folks and engineers and architects? That's another issue.