Above: A screenshot of the GPS on Bench Marks web tool mobilized in 2018.
NSRS modernization: What NGS is doing and what you can do.
“The only thing that is constant is change.” – Heraclitus
Although this quote pertains to all of life, its truth is especially painful for professional surveyors and geospatial professionals. But big changes are coming to our positional fabric as the modernization of the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS) grows ever closer to reality.
Are You Getting Prepared?
The National Geodetic Survey (NGS), the creators, deliverers, and keepers of the NSRS, have been actively attempting to prepare the users of the NSRS for this modernization for several years now, while feverishly performing the massive efforts to bring their vision to fruition in 2022.
Despite a tremendous load on their resources, which have been depleted through attrition and other factors, they have continued to burn the midnight oil to keep this monumental effort on schedule, building each necessary piece of the geodesy puzzle to deliver the goods.
They are dedicated to the mission, and they also have done a tremendous job of recognizing the importance of outreach, education, user input, and crowd sourcing, engaging end users and software/hardware developers to ensure a successful launch at time T minus Zero.
The NGS has provided continual updates in the form of newsletters, Blueprints, an informative webinar series, website updates, and conference presentations across the country through their regional geodetic advisors and headquarters staff. They have also organized and hosted three Geospatial Summits—2015, 2017, and 2019—since this effort began in earnest.
At the 2015 Geospatial Summit, NGS presented on the introduction of the new datums, gently planting the seed in our minds that something very big was coming. They were careful not to panic the masses.
For the 2017 Geospatial Summit, the NSRS modernization was the theme; NGS rolled out more information on what the changes would be, why they were needed, and the road map needed to get there. They also dedicated time to receive feedback and input from stakeholders across the federal, public, and private-sector spectrum. They recognized that something this big could not be developed and delivered properly in a vacuum.
In 2018, between Geospatial Summits, NGS hosted a two-day industry workshop to bring developers to the table to more fully understand what they would need from NGS to deliver the new NSRS to end users. The result benefited both sides, and NGS changed the priorities of some of the NSRS modernization projects.
In 2018 NGS also lead a national GPS on Bench Marks campaign for the improvement of their hybrid geoid model, providing productive tools and maps for selecting target bench marks and submitting data easily. They mobilized the surveying community across the country to collect data that would directly benefit their work by having an improved model to serve as a bridge from ellipsoid heights to orthometric heights in their area of practice. It was a huge success.
As the real push towards delivery heats up, NGS organized and hosted the 2019 Geospatial Summit in May. It was a two-day event with a packed lineup of presentations primarily focused on NSRS 2022.
The “Blueprint for 2022 Part 3: Working in a Modernized NSRS” was essentially unveiled at the summit and is perhaps the most important of the three Blueprint documents for end users to become familiar with. Although several sections are labeled “To Be Determined,” NGS staff worked in concert to finalize the initial draft prior to the summit.
Another key presentation for practicing surveyors to take note of is “GPS on Bench Marks” Efforts. Yes folks, our participation is still needed. Now that the beta GEOID18 is available, with the official release planned for late summer, the continued GPS on BMs crowdsourcing campaign will focus on data needed to improve the NGS transformation tools to bridge from current and previous reference frames/datums to the NSRS 2022.
As in the past, NGS has delivered yet another Interactive tool for selecting target control points to perform observations on and submit through OPUS Share.
In addition to the presentation at the summit, an informative webinar dedicated to this topic included a hands-on demonstration of the powerful functionality of this web map application.
As with GEOID18, all data collected and submitted by us, the users, will directly benefit us. We have until the end of 2021 to collect/submit as much data possible. Hopefully, state associations were involved in the GEOID18 efforts and can keep that momentum going. It is our opportunity to contribute to an NGS product that will serve a critical role in our transition to the modernized NSRS.
Surveyors love to survey, so get out there with your GNSS gear, a camera, and a good book (yes, people still read books), and perform some four-hour sessions to submit to OPUS Share.
One more thing, and this is huge. In their desire to get more and more quality data from users, NGS is replacing the dreaded “Bluebooking” process with “OPUS Projects for Everything.” Three successive presentations at the Summit focused on the enhanced features and functionality of OPUS Projects, including the incorporation of terrestrial data collected with total stations and leveling in addition to GNSS data.
Eventually, RTK data will also be accepted and processed in OPUS Projects to obtain positions and update datasheets in the Data Delivery System (the replacement for the current datasheet generated from the integrated database).
Once data is submitted to NGS—which the user must mark as acceptable for inclusion—several different versions of coordinates will be generated, from:
- Preliminary, returned to the user by OPUS, to
- Final Discrete, which will be computed by NGS in the GPS month in which they were submitted, to
- Reference Epoch, similar to the epoch 2010.00 coordinates we have now.
These will be computed by NGS every five years, with the first official NSRS Reference Epoch being 2020.00.
The final coordinate flavor will be applied to CORS on a regular interval, perhaps weekly and to passive marks using Final Discrete Coordinates, an Intra-Frame velocity model, and possibly any changes detected in the geoid. These dynamic positions will be referred to as “Final Running Coordinates.”
Surveyors don’t like moving coordinates, but they will be available to us. The new “datasheets” will provide all these types of coordinates, if available (except Preliminary), so we will know where a point is and where it came from over time and re-observations.
NGS will change the three-dimensional positional fabric in North America and our territories with or without our participation. They continue to provide every opportunity for us to be educated and informed in preparation for this generational change.
Embrace the opportunity and challenge and start preparing and participating now. You will increase your knowledge and your value, and you will become a leader in the march to the new NSRS.