What Is a Geodesist?

Geodesists use technology to measure large distances with a high degree of accuracy using ancient and modern technology.

What Does a Geodesist Do?

Whether you call them Geodesists or Geodetics Engineers, theirs is the science of measuring based on large trajectories. It is the process of applied mathematics and physics, meaning that it deals with tangible measurements and calculations rather than theory. Geodesists take measurements on land, at sea and through powerful telescopes to calculate our most important planetary processes and some extraterrestrial. It is one of the oldest sciences, used to measure the fluctuations and phases of the moon to predict tides. GIS technicians and other mapping specialists use Geodesist data for a wide variety of applications.

Geodesists measure such things as gravitational fluctuation, distances between multiple points (this includes planetary bodies and those on Earth or those between Earth and other planetary bodies) and erratic processes such as motion of the Earth's crust and polar activity.

They use simple and complex equipment such as remote sensing and “levelling”. Latterly, and since the invention of satellite technology, they have used GIS and other digital mapping methods to calculate distances. It is said that by measuring bodies in space, a Geodesist can measure the distance of two points on Earth to within around 1mm.

Where Does a Geodesist Work?

The overwhelming majority of geodesists work in land and planning services as surveyors. They will work with and for architecture services, taking measurements to ensure that buildings or urban plans are constructed on structurally sound surface, in the right places and that the measurements are aligned. They will be familiar with geophysical survey equipment and can work easily alongside these groups of people.

As professional survey technicians, in theory they can work on archaeology and paleontology excavation sites. In truth, most paleontologists and archaeologists employ their own from within the ranks, but heritage is one area where they are qualified to work. They may also work on construction sites but like heritage, this is less likely for the same reasons. Their qualifications are geared towards much larger units of measurement, typically those unseen to the human eye.

Another employer is government. They work for research institutes such as government scientific bodies (NASA, NOAA), Geological Survey and Bureau of Land Management. In 2015. Federal government employees in this area numbered just 57.

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What Is the Average Geodesist Salary?

As of May 2020, geodesists, who fall under the broader BLS category of surveyors, earned a median salary of $65,590. The top 10% in this profession earned more than $109,010 during this time.*

Geodesy Jobs & Job Description

The Earth is an ever-changing entity over time and studying the aspects of the Earth and the topography of the Earth is the primary job description of a Geodesist. The components and requirements of a Geodesist are:

  • A Bachelor's degree in geodesy, geophysics or related field of study
  • A high degree of verbal, technical and written communication skills
  • Ability to use computer databases and computer simulations; required to be highly mathematical
  • Ability to use specialized surveying equipment; maintain and calibrate equipment regularly
  • Work in a variety of locations to survey land; work from a laboratory receiving satellite information
  • Survey land to determine precise coordinates of topological features of the Earth
  • Ability to create detailed mappings of Earth's shape, measurements, and characteristics
  • Provide vital information and predictions about the Earth for missions into space
  • Conduct simulated research using magnetic and gravitational fields on the Earth
  • Collect and record satellite data
  • Analyze satellite data to determine changes and constants to the Earth's topography, magnetic and gravitational fields

The role of a Senior Geodesist is similar to a level one Geodesist with the possible incorporation of administrative and management duties. The components and requirements are:

  • A Master's degree or Ph.D. in geodesy, geophysics, geodynamics or related field of study
  • Experience working with related databases, satellites and specialized surveying equipment
  • Ability to be detail-oriented and highly organized to prioritize various projects
  • Manage budgets for geodesy projects and present information to stakeholders, agencies or company management
  • Travel to various field sites to manage teams of geodesists and provide necessary training
  • Oversee projects and provide input for improvements
  • Excellent communication skills to provide training and presentations on information collected
  • Verify and analyze data collected from fellow geodesists to determine significant results
  • Develop new programs and research methods to contribute to the scientific community
  • Provide educational support to universities or colleges; teach geodesy at an educational institute

What Is the Job Demand for Geodesists?

The BLS projects that job demand for this profession will increase by a modest 2% between 2020 and 2030. There will be growth in construction and architectural engineering though and qualified geodesists may find more work available in surveying elsewhere.*

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Geodesist?

Any type of surveying role requires a bachelor's degree at the very minimum. Candidates should take degrees related to geo-measurements where specific geodesy degrees are not available. This can include but is not limited to math, physics, cartography, GIS. Other alternatives are engineering and Earth sciences. Many colleges have dedicated surveying jobs which will set you up for learning the technologies and methods and applications of Geodetics. Where these are not available, a degree with math should be the primary focus and the candidate should take minors and electives in the fields mentioned here.

For government jobs and larger projects, a master's degree will be vital - especially for those who hope to manage their own projects. As it is expected that the job demand will drop over the coming decade, it may be wise to make yourself more employable by studying for a master's degree. Greater understanding of natural processes, math and planetary physics will be applied for advanced degrees.

As this involves a lot of complex work, many of the most lucrative and sought-after jobs employ PhD graduates. If you have the aptitude and want to work at some of the most advanced research institutes in the country and the world, a doctorate is vital.

Read more about an online GIS degree.

Geodesy - Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Geodesists Have?

The small field of Geodetics has a number of prestigious organizations:

  • S. National Geodetic Survey: Part of NOAA, they provide access to public and researchers of geographic data for the purpose of reaching social, environmental and research needs

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for surveyors reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

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