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Letters: Professional Topography - March 09 Web Exclusive

April 15, 2009

I enjoyed reading your recent article online at POB titled “Professional Topography: To Map or Not to Map.” Almost all of our projects involve some type of mapping, typically in a riverine environment. We perform a lot of hydrographic surveying in smaller rivers throughout the U.S. Your article brought something to my attention that I had not thought of much-that traditional surveyors do not always do a lot of mapping. It seems that mapping topography is its own unique area of surveying. Does obtaining a PLS take into account the technology and methodology of mapping? Does someone need to be a licensed surveyor to perform mapping? If an engineer has spent much of [his or her] career involved in mapping would [s/he] still need to go through all of the steps to obtain a survey license? And finally, is there a mapping-specific license within surveying?

--Dusty Robinson, PE, Colorado


Column author Joseph Paiva responds:

A traditional concept of surveying is that surveyors don’t do a lot of mapping. Actually, they do a lot of mapping, but they (along with their peers and the public) don’t often recognize that fact.

To answer your first question, most surveyors in the U.S. are licensed through a variety of procedures, but almost all now take the uniform NCEES exam. This exam includes subject matter from the general topic of mapping such as topographic mapping. Whether you need to be a licensed surveyor to perform mapping actually varies from state to state, so you’ll have to check the state statutes. In many states, even if it is covered within the practice area of surveying, it also often falls in the practice area of engineering (civil specialties are licensed) and sometimes even under architecture and landscape architecture.

An engineer who has spent much of his or her career involved in mapping would still need to go through all of the steps to obtain a survey license because almost all states use a licensing process to regulate the practice of cadastral or property boundary surveying. There is a dominant requirement for both experience and surveying knowledge (related to exam subject matter) in this area. But your question brings up an interesting fact from the past. There was a time-and maybe there still is, especially in some governmental agencies-when the position or title of “topographical engineer” existed.

As to your last question, there is not currently a mapping-specific license within surveying. However some organizations, such as ASPRS, offer certifications in various branches of mapping. I don’t think anyone, however, offers a certification in just topographic mapping (unless they are employment-related and apply only within that organization, such as the military).


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