Historically land surveying and geographic information systems (GIS) have been compared and contrasted. Many in the industry have argued that one provides more advantages or have discussed why one is better for the job at hand than the other. But, the truth is these two topographical methods are not in competition; they are complementary tools.

GIS is an accurate method for systems integration and land surveying is a useful method for canvassing. In order to optimize the advantages of both disciplines, we need to understand how they complement each other.

Different Scopes of Precision

Both GIS and land surveying are incredibly precise, but at for different purposes. In general, land surveying is less accurate at measuring horizontal coordinates of topographical features, but very accurate when placing this feature in relation to other locations. On the other hand, GIS provides the precise measurements and location of individual topographical features, but is less precise at determining the relative position.

How Does Land Surveying Work?

This video provides a clear overview of what land surveying is and how it works.

Applications of Land Surveying

Traditional land surveying is now being combined with 3D tools, HD imagery, terrestrial scanning, and light detection and ranging (LiDAR).

This range of surveying tools is useful for applications such as measuring and parceling plots of land, defining property lines, estimating the value of property, planning construction work, and drainage systems. This is the initial go-to method for designing subdivisions, constructing roads, and utilities.

How Does GIS Work?

This video provides a helpful introduction into what GIS is and how it works.

Applications of GIS

GIS adds another layer of information to what surveying reveals. These days it is used frequently for natural resource management, developing simulations for things like seismic hazards, water retention, and soil erosion. It assists engineers working to design and build tunnels, sewer systems, and highways. GIS is used by professionals charged with locating potholes that need repair, and land that is available for development, estimating stormwater runoff, inventorying utility poles, managing utility networks, and creating subsurface 3D utility models.


Surveying and GIS are two powerful tools that can be used together to deliver highly accurate information. Applications such as volumetric modeling, 3D visualization, urban planning, and precision farming are relatively new disciplines that combine these technologies. Governments have started to invest in hybrid tech efforts to complete large-scale projects, including the European initiatives SESAR and ERTMS.

Developing economies are also driving new technologies. Open standards, such as those advocated by the Open Geospatial Consortium and Open GIS, are being used more often to generate a higher degree of interoperability between systems and decrease the time spent porting applications. GIS technology is quickly applying itself to niche surveying techniques, most notably LiDAR.

GIS is the already preferred technology for managing data culled from modern surveying technology – mobile mapping, LiDAR, and laser scanning. As these tools become more precise, surveyors will turn towards GIS technology which has the scale and power to handle the data collected.

Leaders in the surveying and GIS industries are all beginning to recognize the opportunities that come with cooperation. For those professionals on both sides who are looking to expand their horizons, it is time to embrace the partnership between land surveying and GIS.

Get more information on how GIS is used in disaster recovery efforts.

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