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Time is running out to submit GNSS or leveling data for initial NSRS modernization

January 3, 2024  - By

The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) has announced that users have until February 29, 2024, to submit data for the initial National Spatial Reference System (NSRS) modernization rollout. This means time is running out to submit GNSS or leveling data for initial NSRS Modernization. It is anticipated that NGS will release the new, modernized NSRS in 2025, once new data is incorporated into the database. The following newsletter will provide some advice on strategically selecting marks to improve the local accuracy of the NAVD 88-to-NAPGD 2022 transformation tool.

Image: NGS Website

Image: NGS website

As the announcement stated, NGS is in the process of compiling, organizing, and cleaning all the relevant GNSS and leveling data contained within the NGS Integrated Database and the OPUS shared solutions database for preparation of the new, modernized NSRS. The data will be used in national scale survey adjustments using NGS’ new software package called LASER (Least-squares Adjustments: Statistics, Estimates, and Residuals). The adjustments will compute the initial sets of geometric and orthometric reference epoch coordinates (RECs) on many existing survey control marks and CORS around the country. The definitions of RECs and survey epoch coordinates (SECs) are spelled out in NOAA Technical Report NOS NGS 67, NGS’s Blueprint Part 3. My April 2021 GPS World newsletter highlighted the Blueprint Part 3 document, and my August 2022 GPS World newsletter provided details on RECs and SECs. Using the results of the adjustments, NGS will produce a suite of models and tools that will enable users to access and work within the Modernized NSRS.

During the last several years, NGS’ GPS on Benchmarks program has been encouraging stakeholders and partners around the country to submit GNSS data to NGS on marks that they use. This will ensure that these marks will have updated RECs when the new system is implemented. Also, just as important, marks that also have North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88) heights will be used to improve the local accuracy of the NAVD 88-to-NAPGD 2022 transformation tool.

NGS’ plans include accepting user data, but after February 29, 2024, they will not include additional GNSS and leveling data for the initial REC national adjustment and for use in building the transformation tools. In 2018, I wrote a series of GPS World newsletters that highlighted NGS’ GPS on BM program (February 2018, April 2018, June 2018, and August 2018). At that time, the GPS on BM program was very useful in the development and implementation of the hybrid geoid model GEOID18. This newsletter will provide an update on the GPS on BM Transformation Program and provide some advice on strategically selecting marks to improve the local accuracy of the NAVD 88-to-NAPGD 2022 transformation tool.

Links to the GPSonBM Transformation Tool web map and GPSonBM Progress Dashboard are provided in NGS’ announcement. As the announcement states, the GPSonBM Transformation Web Map provides information on marks that have GNSS-derived ellipsoid heights and published NAVD 88 orthometric heights, and where there are still gaps.

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When users click the link GPSonBM Transformation Tool Web Map, they are connected to a web map depicting a prioritized list of marks where new GNSS observations would be most helpful to the development of the transformation model between the current vertical datum (e.g., NAVD 88) and the modernized NSRS.

NGS’ prioritized list of benchmarks are labeled as Priority A or B. Clicking on the “About” button on the webpage provides information about the priority marks. See the boxes titled “GPSonBM Transformation Tool Web Map” and “Excerpt of Information on Priority A and B Marks.”

GPS on BM Transformation Tool Web Map. (Image: NGS website)

GPS on BM Transformation Tool Web Map. (Image: NGS website)

Photo:To assist users in their selection of marks, NGS developed criteria based on spatial resolution factors. See the box titled “Excerpt of Information on Spatial Resolution Factors.” As previously stated, time is running out. In my opinion, users should prioritize their GPS on BM plans based on the NGS’ criteria. I have highlighted what is important for users to consider when selecting marks.

Photo:Many areas across the country do not have benchmarks at the 10 km spacing, so there are some areas without any hexagons or marks. As stated in the spatial resolution factors, NGS will interpolate over any areas with no GPS on benchmarks. In areas that have gaps larger than 10 km, that is, that are missing hexagons, I would recommend occupying several marks in each hexagon surrounding the gap to ensure that marks with valid NAVD 88 heights are part of the transformation tool. The web tool defaults to the Denver, Colorado, region when you access it but users can drag the map to an area of their interest or select a location.

Locating marks using the GPSonBM transformation tool web map. (Image: NGS Website)

Locating marks using the GPSonBM transformation tool web map. (Image: NGS Website)

Acquiring data in mountainous regions and areas that have large distances between completed hexagons is probably the most important for users to focus on. The box titled “Locating Marks Using the GPS on BM Transformation Tool Web Map” provide marks that need to be observed.  As an example, I have highlighted two areas that have large distances between benchmarks and completed hexagons.  In this case, it would be important to occupy a couple of marks in the highlighted locations. Clicking on a mark provides a box with the following information: Mark Priority, Population Priority, PID, Designation, Stamping, State, County, Stability code, Last Date of Recovery, Last Date of Observation, Link to NGS Datasheet, and a Link to a Shared Solution (if one exists).

Clicking the link titled “More Info” next to Datasheet brings up the NGS datasheet for the mark, and clicking the link titled “More Info” next to Shared Solution” brings up the Shared Solution information (see the boxes titled “Mark Priority Information for Mark G 80,” “Excerpt from NGS Datasheet for Mark G 80,” and “Shared Solution for Mark G 80.”). I would recommend that State surveying organizations (and surveyors) perform this type of analysis and strategically occupy marks that fill in important gaps. There is less than two months remaining to submit data to NGS that will support the transformation tool. 

Excerpt from NGS datasheet for Mark G 80. (Image: NGS website)

Excerpt from NGS datasheet for Mark G 80. (Image: NGS website)

PhotoShared solution for Mark G 80. (Image: NGS website)

Shared solution for Mark G 80. (Image: NGS website)

The GPSonBM Progress Dashboard illustrates the progress that each state and territory has made toward NGS’ goal of 10 km (and 2 km) data spacing nationwide.

GPSonBM Program Dashboard. (Image: NGS website)

GPSonBM Program Dashboard. (Image: NGS website)

Users can see the GPS on Benchmark information for a particular state by clicking on the name of the state on the left side of the website.

Selection of North Carolina. (Image: NGS website)

Selection of North Carolina. (Image: NGS website)

I highlighted North Carolina because I live in that state. The map informs the users of how many 10 km priority A (89) and B (32) marks are remaining to be occupied, and the percentage completed (92%). Clicking on the link “To see remaining marks to be collected use GTT Web Map App,” located under the map, depicts the remaining marks to be collected. As you can see from the plot, North Carolina has several marks in the eastern portion of the state that still need to be occupied with GNSS.

Status of GPS on benchmarks in North Carolina. (Image: NGS website)

Status of GPS on benchmarks in North Carolina. (Image: NGS website)

A nice feature of the map is the legend and layer list buttons. Also, information about the mark appears if you click on a mark.

Example of Legend and Layer List. (Image: NGS website)

Example of legend and layer list. (Image: NGS website)

The image below provides a list of layers that can be selected using the webtool.

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The following image depicts marks that have been completed. As you see from the plot, North Carolina has been very active in the GPS on Benchmark program.

Completed marks in North Carolina. (Image: NGS website)

Completed marks in North Carolina. (Image: NGS website)

Users can also click on the button to see which 10 km (and 2 km) hexagons have been completed (see the boxes titled “Completed 10 km Hexagons in North Carolina” and “Completed 2 km Hexagons in North Carolina”).

Completed 10km Hexagons in North Carolina. (Image: NGS website)

Completed 10km Hexagons in North Carolina. (Image: NGS website)

Completed 2km Hexagons in North Carolina. (mage: NGS website)

Completed 2km Hexagons in North Carolina. (mage: NGS website)

The North Carolina Geodetic Survey, under the leadership of Gary Thomson, along with NC surveyors has been involved with the GPSonBM program from its inception.

As previously stated, the website provides the list of priority benchmarks and the status of GPS on Benchmark for each state. There are other states that have been very active in the GPS on Benchmark program such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Completed 10 km Hexagons in Great Lakes Region. (Image: NGS website)

Completed 10 km Hexagons in Great Lakes Region. (Image: NGS website)

The following images provide the GPS on Benchmark information for West Virginia.

Status of GPS on benchmarks in West Virginia. (Image: NGS website)

Status of GPS on benchmarks in West Virginia. (Image: NGS website)

Completed marks in West Virginia. (NGS website)

Completed marks in West Virginia. (NGS website)

Completed 10 km hexagons in West Virginia. (Image: NGS)

Completed 10 km hexagons in West Virginia. (Image: NGS)

 

The following image provides a plot of an area in West Virigina that highlights a region with a large gap between completed 10 km hexagons. If a user was interested in supporting the development of the transformation model in West Virigina, occupying a mark with GNSS in this area would help improve the local accuracy of the NAVD 88-to-NAPGD 2022 transformation tool.

Overlay of completed and status of benchmarks in West Virginia. (Image: NGS website)

Overlay of completed and status of benchmarks in West Virginia. (Image: NGS website)

North Carolina and West Virginia are not large states compared to some western states. The boxes titled “Status of GPS on Benchmarks in Colorado,” “Completed Marks in Colorado,” “Completed 10 km Hexagons in Colorado,” and “Overlay of Completed and Status of Benchmarks in Colorado” provide the information for Colorado. Looking at the plots there appears to be many regions that could use GPS on Benchmark occupations.

Status of GPS on benchmarks in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Status of GPS on benchmarks in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Completed marks in Colorado. (Image: NGS)

Completed marks in Colorado. (Image: NGS)

Completed 10 km hexagons in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Completed 10 km hexagons in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Looking at the plot in the image below, there appear to be many marks that were occupied in populated areas such as Denver, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs. The marks along the southern border were part of NGS’ 2017 Geoid Slope Validation Survey (GSVS) Project. The area highlighted by the orange box is an area that is lacking GPS on Benchmark occupations. The distance between the nearest completed 10 km hexagon is 60 kilometers. In other words, the two completed hexagons are more than 120 km apart. As previously stated, NGS will interpolate over any areas with no GPS on benchmarks.

Overlay of completed and status of benchmarks in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Overlay of completed and status of benchmarks in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Again, in areas that have gaps larger than 10 km with missing hexagons, I recommend occupying several marks in each hexagon surrounding the gap to ensure that marks with valid NAVD 88 heights are part of the transformation tool. To demonstrate this concept, I have selected an area in Colorado near benchmark U 153 (PID LN0062).

Benchmark U 153 in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Benchmark U 153 in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

The following image depicts the locations of the completed hexagons near benchmark U 153.

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NGS has developed web tools to assist users in the selection of marks for the program. Two web tools that I find useful are the Leveling Project Page and the Passive Mark Page. The Leveling Project Page provides information on leveling line data. Users can find information about the marks involved with a certain leveling line. There are links to the Passive Mark Page and NGS datasheets on the Leveling Project Page. My October 2020 GPS World newsletter described the Passive Mark Page web tool in more detail, and my June 2021 GPS World newsletter demonstrated the use of the tools.

In this example, I selected U 153 because it was located between two completed 10 km hexagons that are 125 km apart. That said, looking at the information from the passive mark web tool, it appears that the published height of the benchmark is based on 1934 leveling data. That by itself is not a bad thing but the Orthometric Height Residual is very large (-23.1 cm). This implies that the difference between the GNSS-derived orthometric height using Geoid18 and the published NAVD 88 height disagreed by 23.1cm. This could be due to the movement of the mark and, in my opinion, is not a good candidate for the transformation tool.

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As previously stated, NGS’ Leveling Project Page, provides information on the benchmarks and associated data involved in a leveling line. See the box titled “Excerpt from NGS Leveling Project Page for L2577.” Users can find information about all the marks involved with a certain leveling line.

 

Excerpt from NGS Leveling Project page for L2577. (Image: NGS website)

Excerpt from NGS Leveling Project page for L2577. (Image: NGS website)

Distance between 10km hexagons near B 383 in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Distance between 10km hexagons near B 383 in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Again, I used the Passive Mark tool to find detailed information about the mark. See the box titled “Excerpt from NGS Passive Mark Tool for B 383.” This mark was last leveled in 1966 and the Orthometric Height Residual is small (1.2 cm). This implies that the difference between the GNSS-derived orthometric height using Geoid18 and the published NAVD 88 height disagreed by 1.2 cm.

This could be a good candidate for the GPS on BM program and the transformation tool.

Excerpt from NGS passive mark tool for B 383. (Image: NGS)

Excerpt from NGS passive mark tool for B 383. (Image: NGS)

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For completeness, I looked at another mark in the same area.

Distance Between 10km hexagons near B 154 in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

Distance Between 10km hexagons near B 154 in Colorado. (Image: NGS website)

I highlighted this mark because it was last leveled on the same 1934 leveling line as mark U 153. Unlike U 153, looking at the information provided by the Passive Mark tool for B 154 indicates that the GNSS-derived orthometric height agrees with the published leveling-derived orthometric height. The orthometric height residual is only -2.1 cm. This would be another good candidate to fill the area between the two completed hexagons.

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This newsletter provided some advice on strategically selecting marks to improve the local accuracy of the NAVD 88-to-NAPGD 2022 transformation tool. Again, I would recommend that state surveying organizations and surveyors perform the analysis described above and strategically occupy marks that fill in important gaps. There is less than two months remaining to submit data to NGS that will support the transformation tool.

NGS has developed web tools such as Passive Mark Page and Leveling Project Page to assist users in identifying marks for inclusion in the development of the transformation model between the current vertical datums (e.g., NAVD 88) and the modernized NSRS.

 

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.