International Surveying Adds Another Dimension

On the way to the ESRI User Conference and Survey Summit, I took my usual window seat on a flight from Philadelphia to San Diego. A fellow took the center seat next me, and we each minded our own business for most of the flight. But then all of a sudden, he blurted out, in a slight accent, "Are you going to the ESRI conference?" Apparently, he noticed I was using an ESRI pen from a past conference or looking at some literature with the company's name on it. I responded, "Why yes I am. Are you?" He confirmed he was indeed, and we proceeded to make small talk about it. As a young doctoral student, he worked for a research institute in Germany. (I would later run into him again in a restaurant along the San Diego waterfront.)

This would foreshadow just how international GIS has become and consequently how the conference has as well. Colorful flags from around the world hung from the ceiling in the expansive lobby of the San Diego Convention Center. Keynote speakers came from countries such as Peru and Indonesia. Presenters in technical sessions come from many countries as well. A browse through the ESRI Map Book given to each attendee and the Map Gallery revealed maps of Australia, Palestine, Canada, the U.K., and many other countries. And the international flavor spread into the surveying world as well. We heard reports from a FIG representative about their recent Working Week held in Eilat, Israel and their upcoming 2010 International Congress in Sydney, Australia.

I find this all serendipitous because this issue focuses on international surveying. Our cover story tells how a team from Engineering Ministries International, including a surveyor from Australia, mapped a site for a new school in Kazakhstan and developed a preliminary design for it. While the surveying work itself wasn't spectacular, their mission was noble, and team members learned valuable lessons by immersing themselves in the culture of this historic former communist country in Central Asia. Surveying projects in other countries run a broader gamut than in the United States, from the usual boundary surveys or surveys for major modern construction projects in developed countries to those that address land tenure issues or basic services in developing nations.

I often read about other organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and Engineers Without Borders that carry out missions similar to Engineering Ministries International. When I do, I feel envious of people like this who travel to foreign countries, sometimes under uncomfortable conditions, and come back enriched and educated about other cultures and the problems people less fortunate than us face. They know their work makes a difference. Maybe someday I can get on one of these projects. In the meantime, I hope you'll feel just as inspired by the stories in this issue. Savor the international flavor that now pervades in surveying.
Expanding our horizons, we're proud to announce the introduction of Pangaea, an electronic newsletter coming this fall. The name refers to the supercontinent from which our seven continents were formed, and we see it as a parallel to the myriad emerging technologies that converge to form the world of geomatics we know today. Look for Pangaea in your inbox or subscribe to it by visiting our website.

About the Author

  • Tom Gibson, PE
    Tom Gibson, PE
    Tom was editor of the magazine from June 2006 to May 2010. He is also the editor of Progressive Engineer:

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