Oregon State University to support new generation of geodesists, surveyors and geospatial professionals

April 3, 2024  - By

In my November 2023 GPS World newsletter, I highlighted the announcement made by the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) of the recipients of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) FY 23 Geospatial Modeling Competition Awards. The primary objective of these projects is to modernize geodetic tools and models as well as develop a geodetic workforce for the future.  My past two GPS World newsletters, February 2024 and March 2024, highlighted two of the grantees — Scripps Institution of Oceanography and The Ohio State University — that included developing models to address what NGS denotes as the Intra-Frame Deformation Model (IFDM).  This newsletter will address another NGS geospatial modeling grant awardee, which is the proposal made by Oregon State University (OSU).

The title of the OSU proposal is “NSRS Modernization and Geodetic Workforce Development.”  Christopher Parrish, Ph.D., director of the Geospatial Center for the Arctic and Pacific (GCAP), is the lead principal investigator (PI).  I met him when we both worked for the NGS years ago.  The goal of the OSU project is to improve the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS) and enhance workforce development and geodetic science.

I will highlight several items in the proposal, but first, I must address the issue of two universities with the same acronym, which is “OSU.”  In my opinion, since The Ohio State University officially used the acronym first, it is The OSU, but Chris said we are just going to have to agree to disagree.  See “Two Universities with the Same Acronym” for the facts.


There could be some confusion in my newsletters because the acronym OSU is used by The Ohio State University and Oregon State University.  That said, in the remainder of this newsletter, OSU will refer to Oregon State University.

The OSU project is organized by the following three themes:

1) Development and Investigation of Geodetic Tools, Models, and Workflows.

2) Enhancement of Geodetic Infrastructure.

3) Geodetic Partnerships, Education and Outreach.

The project will develop and support a new generation of geodesists, surveyors and geospatial professionals. The plan will build on OSU’s Geomatics graduate program, the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) undergraduate Geomatics program, and partnerships throughout the nation to provide opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students to directly participate in cutting-edge research.  This part of the proposal will help address the geodesy crisis.  As I mentioned in my March 2024 newsletter, I have been highlighting the geodesy crisis and programs that advance the science of geodesy — July 2020, November 2022, and December 2022.

The goals of the OSU proposal will be achieved through the following five objectives:

Objective 1: Develop and test novel approaches to integrate precise point positioning (PPP) and real-time networks (RTNs) into the NSRS, including the development of a real-time network (RTN) alignment service.  The current focus includes:

  1. Explore alternative methods to monitor RTN health.
  2. Develop a semi-automatic workflow for aligning RTNs to the NSRS.
  3. Create an accessible web-based interface to empower surveying practitioners and RTN managers with real-time network alignment information.

The proposal states: A user-friendly real-time network alignment program will be very helpful to RTN operators during the implementation of the new, modernized NSRS.

Part of the proposal includes contributing to the development and evaluation of NGS’s OPUS Projects web tool for the inclusion of multi-GNSS, gravity, leveling and total station observations.

The inclusion of additional types of data into OPUS Projects will allow users to incorporate all survey data from their projects into the new, modernized NSRS such as leveling data to estimate NAPGD2022 orthometric heights.

Objective 2: Create standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure proper implementation of and transition to the new 2022 datums for geospatial applications such as topographic mapping, photogrammetric surveys and asset inventories.

Developing standard operating procedures will provide consistency between different surveying and mapping agencies, as well as routines developed by software companies during the implementation phase of the new, modernized NSRS.

The OSU proposal includes developing automated methods to manage the Oregon Real-Time GNSS Network (ORGN) to improve the ability of users to observe real-time coordinates in the new, modernized NSRS.

This work is very important to all RTN operators.  It will lead to the development of a National Real-Time Network (RTN) alignment service that will allow RTN operators/managers to align their RTN with the new, modernized NSRS.

 Objective 3: Improve the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s, and the Yurok Tribe’s hydrodynamic models of the Columbia and Klamath Rivers through use of the modernized NSRS.

This may seem like a very local benefit, which it obviously is, but the RTN improvements enabled through their other tasks will support efficient, accurate bathymetry collection at greatly reduced cost and will extend training into a broader community of users.  NAPGD2022 and GEOID2022 will improve the use of the data for hydrodynamic modeling throughout the nation.  Therefore, these enhancements will enable improvement in the modeling of water levels in other water systems and in the accurate representation of dynamics of shallow water habitat.  This is a benefit that will be useful to many NSRS users.

 Objective 4: Assist in the development and testing of OPUS-Projects and M-PAGES.  As previously mentioned, part of the proposal includes contributing to the development and evaluation of OPUS Projects for the inclusion of multi-GNSS.

This is important because incorporating multiple satellite systems, such as GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and BeiDou, into the processing routine will improve the precision and accuracy of coordinates, especially in the height component.

 Objective 5: Develop and train the next generation of geodesists, surveyors and geospatial professionals and broaden participation in these fields through existing and new collaborative programs between the tribal, academic and government members of the Geospatial Center for the Artic and Pacific (GCAP), where education and outreach are part of its mission.  GCAP provides training workshops covering topics such as GNSS, geodesy, 3D laser scanning and least squares adjustments.

These types of workshops are usually locally given but part of the proposal includes working with Oregon State E-campus to expand the workshops to an online education program.  This will benefit a lot of surveyors, mappers, and geospatial users across the Nation.

These five objectives will be achieved through eight focused tasks organized into the three themes previously mentioned.  The new, modernized NSRS will affect in some way the daily operations of all geospatial users.  I have highlighted several tasks that, in my opinion, are critical to the implementation of the new, modernized NSRS. For example, incorporating all types of geodetic data into OPUS Projects will help facilitate the implementation of the new NSRS; developing a National RTN Alignment Service will allow RTN operators/managers to align their RTN properly and correctly with the new, modernized NSRS; and working with Oregon State E-campus to expand the workshops to an online education program will increase outreach efforts that will benefit many users across the geospatial community.


Key benefits: 

  • Enhancing and extending diverse use of the NSRS where these advances are most needed.
  • CORS postprocessing with PPP will facilitate both CORS monitoring and position.
  • Providing impactful and critical workforce development such as new career opportunities for future generations by expanding undergraduate and geomatics education opportunities and capacity as well as career advancement and upskilling opportunities for the existing workforce.
  • New outreach programs will actively engage Alaska Native communities and K-12 students.
  • Graduate and undergraduate students involved with the project will have unique interdisciplinary experiential learning opportunities collaborating with professionals.
  • Providing broader impacts to society and the planet, including improved resilience to coastal and seismic hazards with improved monitoring capabilities, and developing a diverse geodetic science and geomatics workforce in a currently underserved region.

This newsletter and my past two GPS World newsletters highlighted three of the NGS Geospatial Modeling grantees, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, The OSU, and OSU, which included creating geodesy curriculums that will help address the geodesy crisis.  Changes in these geomatic programs will provide students with the skills in geospatial systems that will make available opportunities for employment in the public and private sectors.  My next newsletter will address the fourth NGS geospatial modeling grant awardee: Michigan State University’s proposal.

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About the Author: David B. Zilkoski

David B. Zilkoski has worked in the fields of geodesy and surveying for more than 40 years. He was employed by National Geodetic Survey (NGS) from 1974 to 2009. He served as NGS director from October 2005 to January 2009. During his career with NGS, he conducted applied GPS research to evaluate and develop guidelines for using new technology to generate geospatial products. Based on instrument testing, he developed and verified new specifications and procedures to estimate classically derived, as well as GPS-derived, orthometric heights. Now retired from government service, as a consultant he provides technical guidance on GNSS surveys; computes crustal movement rates using GPS and leveling data; and leads training sessions on guidelines for estimating GPS-derived heights, procedures for performing leveling network adjustments, the use of ArcGIS for analyses of adjustment data and results, and the proper procedures to follow when estimating crustal movement rates using geodetic leveling data. Contact him at dzilkoski@gpsworld.com.