Survey the Earth in a Day: Land Surveyors Unite to Measure Our Planet's Surface

Land surveying is one of the oldest professions in the world. Its history dates back to 2700 BC and the Great Pyramid at Giza, but it is a practice that has never received much attention. The second annual Survey Earth In A Day project from the Land Surveyors United (LSU) community aims to change that.

On June 21, 2013 at noon -- Summer solstice, the longest day of the year -- thousands of land surveyors will switch on their survey grade GPS devices to simultaneously measure and record information about their location in the largest scale land surveying project ever undertaken. The data will be submitted to the LSU social network and compared with last year's results to illustrate variations in the planet's surface over time.

"Planet Earth has never been measured with great precision -- in its entirety -- from thousands of points, simultaneously, during the course of a single day," says Land Surveyors United founder Justin Farrow. "On Survey Earth Day, the geospatial professionals of the world will have a chance to change that."

Justin Farrow is responsible for creating Land Surveyors United, the first ever global social support network for geospatial professionals, and he has been cultivating the community since its inception in 2007. Land Surveyors United boasts nearly 5,500 members from every continent and over 50 countries, translates into over 145 languages, and offers localized community support for virtually any type of geospatial equipment or software on Earth. Survey Earth in a Day is arguably one of its most exciting projects -- activity on the network has doubled and membership is on the rise in these few weeks prior to the event. 

We caught up with Justin and asked him to explain the evolution of Survey Earth as well as its significance to non-surveyors.

Measuring the Earth sounds really cool. Can you explain how it works for us non-surveyors?

The fact that the majority of the public does not know what a professional land surveyor does happen to be one of the primary reasons for holding such an event -- to educate. Without land surveyors, no one in the world would be able to accurately understand the ownership of real property. Surveyors bring accuracy to the measurement of land that the general public could never achieve. You can't find your property corners using Google Maps, for example.

Before Land Surveyors United, no Global Social Network existed for Land Surveyors, despite the fact that it is the oldest profession known to man. Land Surveyors are trained to use a type of GPS equipment which is highly accurate. Cellphone GPS is only accurate to +/- 30 meters, and can only triangulate positions between 2-4 satellites. Survey grade GPS can be accurate to close to a centimeter or more, triangulating position from 20 or more satellites at once.

An entire global network of surveyors simultaneously capturing and sending in data during a single day (Summer solstice, the longest day of the year) will actually increase the accuracy of the maps we use everyday, on our phones and on the Web. Therefore, only a professional land surveyor can improve the accuracy of Web-based maps. Imagine how much land surveyors could change the state of Web-mapping when we, as a community, simultaneously measure the entire planet on the longest day of the year from thousands of locations around Earth. We will show the public how truly important land surveyors are to society. 

What kinds of information do you hope to learn from this data?

Our first goal is to get land surveyors in the habit of communicating across borders. Surveyors are governed by laws which vary from state to state, country to country, which is one of the primary reasons for the lack of a 'global community' before now. We hope to understand both the similarities and differences shared among surveyors in different parts of the world. We hope to unify land surveyors based on this community gathered data, and we hope to educate the public about the importance of professional land surveyors to society. Ultimately, we hope to learn much more from the data than we currently anticipate, as it could be useful across disciplines of science, math, geodesy, geography, and of course, anthropology.

An entire global network of surveyors simultaneously capturing and sending in data during a single day will actually increase the accuracy of the maps we use everyday, on our phones and on the Web.

What response did the event have last year and what response are you expecting this year?

Last year, with only around 2100 members on the Land Surveyors United network, we had around 1450 participants; and we are learning from our mistakes. Our submission form timed out for around 440 submissions because we were using a Jotform/Dropbox form that I hacked together. Last year (2012) was the very first year for two Ning-powered global events for land surveyors: Survey Earth in a Day 1.0 happened on Thursday June 20th, during the first annual International Surveyors Week.

This year, with well over 5400 members, we have close to 3700 people registered to participate, which should mean a HUGE boost in submissions. We've put a lot more social media promotion into this year's event, and our network activity and membership has more than doubled. International Surveyors Week 2013 is a bit more focused than last year, and Survey Earth in a Day 2.0 is going to be live and streaming.

Survey Earth in a Day 3D is planned to take place on June 21, 2014. Data from all three years will be layered and mapped, giving us some ideas related to changes and shifts in the Earth's surface over time -- not to mention the growth of our global surveyors community. Pretty exciting stuff, even if you're not a land surveyor, I'd say! And as an anthropologist and the only person on my network who isn't a land surveyor, I am most excited about the strength and sense of community that this event is bringing to the land surveying industry.

How can non-surveyors contribute?

I ask and encourage readers to share and post about this event in your own networks and blogs.

Get involved with the Survey Earth in a Day project. Connect with Survey Earth on Twitter and Facebook.

Images courtesy of Survey Earth

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