In surveying, measurements may be made directly, electronically, by the use of optical instruments, by computations from known lines and angles, or by combination methods. Instruments used for direct linear measurements include the Gunter's chain (known also as the surveyor's chain), which is 66 ft (20 m) long and divided into 100 links; the engineer's chain, 100 ft (30 m) long and also consisting of 100 links; the tape, usually of steel, which has largely superseded chains; and the rod. Tapes and rods made of Invar metal (an alloy of steel and nickel) are used for very precise work because of their low coefficient of thermal expansion. In many situations electronic instruments, such as the geodimeter, which uses light waves, and the tellurometer, which uses microwaves, provide a more convenient and more accurate means of determining distance than do tapes and rods.
The height of points in relation to a datum line (usually mean sea level) is measured with a leveling instrument consisting of a telescope fitted with a spirit level and usually mounted on a tripod. It is used in conjunction with a leveling rod placed at the point to be measured and sighted through the telescope. The transit is used to measure vertical and horizontal angles and may be used also for leveling; its chief elements are a telescope that can be rotated (transited) about a horizontal and about a vertical axis, spirit levels, and graduated circles supplemented by vernier scales. Known also as a transit theodolite, or transit compass, the transit is a modification of the theodolite, an instrument that, in its original form, could not be rotated in a vertical axis. A plane table consists of a drawing board fixed on a tripod and equipped with an alidade (a rule combined with a telescope); it is used for direct plotting of data on a chart and is suitable for rapid work not requiring a high degree of precision.
The stadia method of measuring distance, a rapid system useful in surveying inaccessible terrain and in checking more precise measurements, consists in observing through a telescope equipped with two horizontal cross hairs or wires (stadia hairs) the interval delimited by the hairs on a calibrated stadia rod; the interval depends on the distance between the rod and the telescope.
Surveys based on photographs are especially useful in rugged or inaccessible country and for reconnaissance surveys for construction, mapping, or military purposes. In air photographs, errors resulting from tilt of the airplane or arising from distortion of ground relief may be corrected in part by checking against control points fixed by ground surveys and by taking overlapping photographs and matching and assembling the relatively undistorted central portions into a mosaic. These are usually examined stereoscopically.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.