Silent Sea Changes

Two events in the past month are possibly among the most important things to happen to this community in a long time.  Both have come almost unnoticed. 

On Friday, March 22, I learned that the governor of Virginia was on the verge of signing Senate Bill 804, SB 804 “Voluntary boundary agreement between localities; attachment of GIS map to petitions.”  In short, this bill allows adjoining counties to enter into a boundary agreement by “a Geographic Information System (GIS) map depicting the change in the boundaries of the localities as agreed with a general description of the new boundary line.”
 
The original bill (introduced to the Senate and later passed by the House) came within a breath of being signed by the governor without any consultation from the professional surveying community. I believe that the two counties petitioned for this because, after consulting a local surveyor to map out approximately 24 miles of their common line, they were stunned by the cost—as I hear it in the range of $250,000. Probably not unreasonable, but they lacked the resources. Somewhere in the discussion someone said something like, “Hey, we can do this in the GIS for virtually nothing.” 

The Virginia Association of Surveyors got wind of this (thankfully) and were able to add some modest language that may, hopefully, provide a condition that will ensure the integrity of the boundary beyond just a line in a GIS. Is this a predicator of the future? To me it seems all too likely. 

The other event happened on April 2 when the International GNSS Service (IGS) announced the release of its free global Real-time Service (RTS). I have heard from highly respected sources that this service has the potential for providing positional integrity in the range of 5-10 cm relative to the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF) almost anywhere in the world. 

If this is true, I believe it has the potential for making a dramatic change in how anyone with a dual-frequency receiver, not just surveyors, can access the international standard for positioning.  Issues like coordinate epochs and velocities will need to be a fundamental part of the metadata for collecting and sharing geospatial information, issues that are not commonly well understood in the surveying and GIS communities. Depending on a variety of conditions, this development may cause the National Geodetic Survey to reassess the planned change in the national geometric (horizontal) datum currently planned for 2022. 

In the end, will either or both of these issues be as important as I think they are?  Of course only time will tell, but I think we may be on the verge of seeing some significant changes in the traditional perspective of how some boundaries can be defined, along with the capability for almost anyone on the planet with a modest investment in GNSS technology to know where they are within the size of the palm of their hand.  It’s an exciting time.
 
~Dave Doyle

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