Land Surveying in Harsh Environments: Helping Map the Mysteries of Antarctica 

Land Surveying in Harsh Environments: Helping Map the Mysteries of Antarctica 

Human beings have done a lot of exploring since modern civilizations began and ships, automobiles, and airplanes allowed for the traversal across oceans and vast landmasses. There are still places out there, however, that remain to be fully understood.

Antarctica, the fifth-largest continent, with 5.4 million square miles, storage of the planet’s fresh water supply, and a variety of penguins, polar bears, and other animal life is still largely a mystery. Land surveyors, among others, are part of the group of people that have helped understand this amazing landmass little by little. 

How do land surveyors work in such harsh environments? What is their role in the slow uncovering of Antarctica’s secrets? 

Let’s survey some of the details.

Land Surveyors as Outdoor Explorers — How We Map Harsh Terrain 

While many jobs adjusted to the covid pandemic and switched to remote or work-from-home models, land surveyors were doing anything but. Their job cannot be done remotely, nor can it be neglected or left to chance. Precision is everything in land surveying, as it contributes to the mapping and understanding of the landscape while being essential to the building of infrastructure. The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) is a government-sponsored program that represents the country in the region. The program strives to encourage international cooperation, maintain a presence in the region, and conduct quality science research there. 

Well-known land surveyor Jeffrey Scannielo is part of a team that works in the Antarctic region. McMurdo Station is the U.S. station in Antarctica and is at the tip of Ross Island about 2, 415 miles south of Christchurch, New Zealand. Most of the field research and activities go through this station. Scannielo— a licensed surveyor in the state of Colorado— was working doing land surveying to help build runways for McMurdo. The runways are essential for planes landing and scientists, biologists, and other researchers to come in.

Scannielo explains part of his mission was monitoring the sea ice conditions for aircraft/vehicle safety. He had to do this in temperatures that raked below -62 F with wind chill. That’s a brisk day at the office! He explains how modern technology has helped land surveyors in dealing with the job in harsh environments such as this. Current GPS receivers, for example, have increased field productivity.  The equipment today is efficient, stable, and resilient, which helps when you’re dealing with icy conditions. 

Land Surveyors in Antarctica — Just Another Day at the Office

When land surveyors work in the United States, there are a series of tools that allow them to predict the conditions on the ground. That is, accurate weather reports and forecasts can tell a surveyor a lot about the kind of landscape they’re going into. That’s not the case in Antarctica. Land surveyor David Scott realized this when working in the region. He recounts how doing work down there always has some uncertainty, as you never know what kind of conditions you will run into. 

Part of his job was also to survey the land to help airplanes land in the area. The issue is the runways in Antarctica are always shifting because of winds and weather conditions. Every year, surveyors have to measure longitudes and latitudes in extreme weather including high winds and low temperatures. Land surveyors have a great responsibility on their shoulders to maintain their equipment and avoid losing precision.

Runways and airfields are important in the Arctic region because harsh weather makes landing difficult. So airplanes have to use instruments to know where the runway is in order to land safely, and to do that, they need accurate measurements of latitude and longitude. 

Survey Instruments in Harsh Weather

Land surveying is not only difficult on the land surveyor but also on the equipment needed to make accurate measurements. In early expeditions to extreme weather, telescopes and compasses were covered in leather to protect them. The knobs on the early theodolites were also wrapped in leather to shield them from the cold. Thanks to advancements in this field, the equipment built today are far more durable and withstands a lot more harsh weather, helping the crew get the job done. Data collection has also become easier thanks to some of the instruments, which ensures that no data is lost. 

Land Surveyors in the El Paso and Southwest Regions

While we haven’t made our way to Antarctica quite yet, we are here to serve the Southwest region in providing accurate land surveying services. Whether you’re looking to build something on your property, working with government contractors on infrastructure, or building a commercial facility, we have the team, the expertise, and the equipment to do the job.  

Want to learn more about our land surveying services? Contact us today

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