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Geodesy: Introduction To Geodetic Datum And Geo... [UPDATED]

A geodetic datum or geodetic system (also: geodetic reference datum, geodetic reference system, or geodetic reference frame) is a global datum reference or reference frame for precisely representing the position of locations on Earth or other planetary bodies by means of geodetic coordinates.[1] Datums[note 1] are crucial to any technology or technique based on spatial location, including geodesy, navigation, surveying, geographic information systems, remote sensing, and cartography. A horizontal datum is used to measure a location across the Earth's surface, in latitude and longitude or another coordinate system; a vertical datum is used to measure the elevation or depth relative to a standard origin, such as mean sea level (MSL). Since the rise of the global positioning system (GPS), the ellipsoid and datum WGS 84 it uses has supplanted most others in many applications. The WGS 84 is intended for global use, unlike most earlier datums.

Geodesy: Introduction to Geodetic Datum and Geo...

A geodetic reference datum is a known and constant surface which is used to describe the location of unknown points on Earth. Since reference datums can have different radii and different center points, a specific point on Earth can have substantially different coordinates depending on the datum used to make the measurement. There are hundreds of locally developed reference datums around the world, usually referenced to some convenient local reference point. Contemporary datums, based on increasingly accurate measurements of the shape of Earth, are intended to cover larger areas. The most common reference Datums in use in North America are NAD27, NAD83, and WGS 84.

A geodetic datum is an abstract coordinate system with a reference surface (such as sea level) that serves to provide known locations to begin surveys and create maps. In this way, datums act similar to starting points when you give someone directions. For instance, when you want to tell someone how to get to your house, you give them a starting point that they know, like a crossroads or a building address.

The vertical datum is similarly "realized" through a collection of specific points on the Earth with known heights either above or below a nationally defined reference surface (e.g., mean sea level). Geodetic vertical datums are generally used to express land elevations. However, water level datums are a slightly different vertical datum, and are used as a reference level to which bathymetric soundings are referenced for nautical charts. Conversion between these two can be done through geodetic surveys at tide gauges.

A geodetic datum (plural datums, not data) is a reference from which spatial measurements are made. In surveying and geodesy,a datum is a set of reference points on the earth's surface against which position measurements are made, and (often) an associated model of the shape of the earth (reference ellipsoid) to define a geographic coordinate system. Horizontal datums are used for describing a point on the earth's surface, in latitude and longitude or another coordinate system. Vertical datums measure elevations or depths. In engineering and drafting, a datum is a reference point, surface, or axis on an object against which measurements are made.

The North American Datum of 1927 (NAD 27) is a local referencing system designed to accurately represent North America. It is based on the Clarke spheroid of 1866, whose origin lies at Meade's Ranch, Kansas.[2] This datum gave Meade's Ranch a reference height of zero and projected the rest of North America using this azimuth. NAD 27 is designed to represent North America and little beyond that scope. NAD 27 provided the best mathematical model of North America until the introduction of NAD 83, which largely made NAD 27 obsolete.

A vertical datum is used for measuring the elevations of points on the earth's surface. They are used as a reference for specifying heights. Vertical datums are either tidal, based on sea levels, or geodetic, based on the same ellipsoid models of the earth used for computing horizontal datums. In the past, datums were measured by survey control points using level bars and optical surface measurement tools. Today, vertical measurements are used via GPS, laser, and satellite [6].

A geodetic vertical datum takes some specific zero point, and computes elevations based on the geodetic model being used, without further reference to sea levels. Usually, the starting reference point is a tide gauge, so at that point the geodetic and tidal datums might match, but due to sea level variations, the two scales may not match elsewhere. An example of a gravity-based geodetic datum is NAVD88, used in North America, which is referenced to a point in Quebec, Canada. Ellipsoid-based datums such as WGS84, GRS80 or NAD83 use a theoretical surface that may differ significantly from the geoid.

To begin that discussion of geodetic reference frames (datums), we'll talk about the deflection of the vertical. Please notice the astronomical coordinates of a station in the illustration. This is an actual station called Youghall in North America. The astronomic coordinates of that station, 40 degrees, 25 minutes, 36.28 seconds, differ from the geodetic coordinate, the latitude in that case being 40 degrees, 25 minutes, 33.39 seconds and the longitude in astronomic, 108 degrees, 46 minutes, 00.08 seconds, and the longitude in geodetic coordinate, 108 degrees, 45 minutes, 57.78 seconds. These coordinates differ because down is governed by gravity when it comes to astronomic coordinates. However, down is perpendicular to the ellipsoid for geodetic coordinates.

The semimajor axis and flattening can be used to completely define an ellipsoid of revolution. The ellipsoid is revolved around the minor axis. However, in the traditional approach, six additional elements are required if that ellipsoid is to become a geodetic datum: three to specify its center and three more to clearly indicate its orientation around that center. The Clarke 1866 spheroid is one of many reference ellipsoids. Its shape is completely defined by a semimajor axis, a, of 6378.2064 km and a flattening, f, of 1/294.9786982. It is the reference ellipsoid of the datum known as the North American Datum of 1927 (NAD27), but it is not the datum itself.

Three distinct figures are involved in a geodetic datum for latitude, longitude, and height: the geoid, the reference ellipsoid, and the topographic surface. Due in large measure to the ascendancy of satellite geodesy, it has become highly desirable that they share a common center.

The Clarke 1866 ellipsoid was the foundation of NAD27, and the blocks that built that foundation were made by geodetic triangulation. After all, an ellipsoid, even one with a clearly stated orientation to the earth, is only an abstraction until physical, identifiable control stations are available for its practical application. During the tenure of NAD27, control positions were tied together by tens of thousands of miles of triangulation and some traverses. Its measurements grew into chains of figures from Canada to Mexico and coast to coast, with their vertices perpetuated by bronze disks set in stone, concrete, and other permanent media. These tri-stations, also known as brass caps, and their attached coordinates have provided a framework for all types of surveying and mapping projects for many years. They have served to locate international, state, and county boundaries. They have provided geodetic control for the planning of national and local projects, development of natural resources, national defense, and land management. They have enabled surveys to be fitted together, provided checks, and assisted in the perpetuation of their marks. They have supported scientific inquiry, including crustal monitoring studies and other geophysical research. But even as application of the nationwide control network grew, the revelations of local distortions in NAD27 were reaching unacceptable levels. The work was excellent, and given the technology of the day, remarkable but judged by the standards of newer measurement technologies, the quality of some of the observations used in the datum were too low. That, and its lack of an internationally viable geocentric ellipsoid, finally drove its positions to obsolescence. The monuments remain, but it was clear early on that NAD27 had some difficulties. There were problems from too few baselines, Laplace azimuths and other deficiencies. By the early 1970s, the NAD27 coordinates of the national geodetic control network were no longer adequate.

Since geodetic accuracy with GPS depends on relative positioning, surveyors continue to rely on NGS stations to control their work, just as they have for generations. Today, it is not unusual for surveyors to find that some NGS stations have published coordinates in NAD83 and others, perhaps needed to control the same project, only have positions in NAD27. In such a situation, it is often desirable to transform the NAD27 positions into coordinates of the newer datum. But, unfortunately, there is no single-step mathematical approach that can do it accurately. The distortions between the original NAD27 positions are part of the difficulty. The older coordinates were sometimes in error as much as 1 part in 15,000. Problems stemming from the deflection of the vertical, lack of correction for geoidal undulations, low-quality measurements, and other sources contributed to inaccuracies in some NAD27 coordinates that cannot be corrected by simply transforming them into another datum.

In fact, the only truly reliable method of transformation is not to rely on coordinates at all, but to return to the original observations themselves. It is important to remember, for example, that geodetic latitude and longitude, as other coordinates, are specifically referenced to a given datum (reference frame) and are not derived from some sort of absolute framework. But the original measurements, incorporated into a properly designed least-squares adjustment, can provide most satisfactory results. 041b061a72


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