Surveying GIS

February 1, 2005
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"The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time." ~ Abraham Lincoln

So far, the new millennium has brought with it more new ideas, more new technology and even more of the requisite challenges associated with keeping pace with such rapid development. The "technology roller coaster" continues to provide a thrill-a-minute environment with no apparent end in sight.

It hardly seems a moment has passed since I "took up the cudgels" to champion broader use and exposure to Geographic Information Systems within the surveying community by becoming a columnist for POB magazine. But, four years have elapsed-and much has already changed.

Much has changed in both surveying and GIS. Does this mean that GIS has changed surveying forever? Probably not, but it seems reasonable to conclude that GIS is likely to be desired and included in the curriculum vitae for modern surveyors.

In this latest installment of "Surveying GIS" we will take a look at the newest version of ESRI's ArcGIS, version 9.

In the ArcMap graphical user interface, the little red toolbox icon for ArcToolbox is displayed right next to the ArcCatalog file drawer icon.

Inside ArcGIS 9 (the ArcView Suite)

Out of the box there is no obvious perceptible difference between ArcGIS 8.3 and ArcGIS 9.0. The ArcMap GUI (graphical user interface) looks pretty much the same. The differences are rather mostly contained in the tools and menus.

Before we move on to the nuances, perhaps a bit of review is in order. ArcGIS is a three-tiered component suite containing ArcMap, ArcCatalog and ArcToolbox. It comes in two versions: ArcView and ArcINFO Workstation. Both are referred to as ArcGIS 9; the difference between them is the same as in ArcGIS 8.x: the ArcView suite does not include ArcINFO Workstation and has a smaller set of tools in ArcToolbox. The user will very often find it useful or necessary to toggle between the component programs to perform the varied tasks in a typical GIS project.

There are far too many changes in ArcGIS 9 for me to review all of them here. So, I will concentrate on some of those that affect the operations more common to projects with a survey or design component.

First, we notice in the ArcMap GUI that the little red toolbox icon for ArcToolbox is displayed right next to the ArcCatalog file drawer icon. In ArcGIS 8, ArcToolbox was launched separately from the "Start" menu or a desktop shortcut. When the user clicks on the ArcToolbox icon in version 9, the ArcToolbox window appears between the table of contents and the map window (or to the left of the table of contents) rather than as a separate window as it does in ArcGIS 8.

The ArcToolbox window appears between the table of contents and the map window (or to the left of the Table of Contents), rather than as a separate window as it does in Arc 8.
Adding data to the map window in ArcGIS 9 works almost the same as in version 8. But there is a very subtle difference for those of us bringing CAD documents into GIS projects. In ArcView 8, only the active layers in the drawing file were imported into Map View and displayed. In ArcGIS 9, the user can select a .dwg file and click "OK." That brings the file in configured as it was left in CAD. Double-clicking on the CAD file brings up a second dialog box displaying available layers. (The list in the dialog box may not be a complete list of the layers in the CAD file.) The user can then select only the entities he wishes to load into his project for display. ArcGIS 9 is capable of reading AutoCAD drawings through version 2004. Microstation files are also supported.

Once some layers are added to the project the next thing a user may notice is the change to the Identify tool. Clicking on the tool activates the Identify Results window. From the drop-down box, the user can choose any layer and proceed to clicking on objects of interest. The Identify Results box is updated as successive objects are clicked.

To convert a shapefile to .dxf the user needs to launch ArcCatalog.

ArcToolbox and ArcCatalog

ArcToolbox in ArcGIS 9 has more tools than its predecessor. But the Conversion Tools set works a little differently. The Conversion Tools set now offers another way to import CAD work into a GIS project. One tool will convert a CAD file directly to or into an existing geodatabase. I would only recommend this option for those who have some experience working with personal geodatabases.

Getting data exported from a GIS project into a CAD project in ArcGIS 9 gets only slightly more complicated than it was in version 8. In fact, it still uses the Conversion Tools from Version 8-but they have been relocated.

To convert a shapefile to a .dxf file, for example, the user must launch ArcCatalog, then add the "ArcView 8.x Tools" toolbar by clicking on it in the "View" menu. The drop-down menu brings up the toolset. And it works just as it did in ArcView 8.

ArcGIS 9 has added a GPS Toolbar for use in the field.

The GPS Toolbar

We have previously discussed the rapid growth of mobile GIS. To that end, ArcGIS 9 has added a GPS toolbar for use in the field. The user can collect GPS positions directly into a shapefile or personal geodatabase


The Survey Analyst extension in version 9 hasn't changed from version 8. The new and improved version of Survey Analyst is scheduled for the next release.* It promises to include feature coding and come with its own data model.

ESRI typically offers free online training for many new products and releases. ArcGIS 9 is no exception. The Virtual Campus site offers "What's New in ArcGIS 9?" at http://campus/ There is also a set of tutorial exercises at ArcUser Online at

*Note: The release of ArcGIS 9.1 is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2005.

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