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One of the geometric quantities which we measure in surveying, as we have mentioned in

introduction and definition of surveying is distance or length of lines. We need distance not
only to determine the dimensions of natural or artificial objects on earth surface of but also to
know location, position of these objects on the surface of earth. This is accomplished by
a) horizontal distance from a known (control) point and
b) direction or orientation from a known reference direction.
From these, coordinates of points on a specified reference surface can be computed. Of course
some surveys are carried out under the surface of earth and some other surveys above the
surface of earth.


If we have two points A and B on the surface of earth, we can talk about
a) distance from A to B, or
b) the length of line AB.
The first definition is vectorial one and includes a direction; namely from A to B. In this
course we are defining quantities on a plane surface, but actually distances on a curved
surface (of earth) will vary depending on at what elevation they are measured. The distances,
for example measured in Ankara, which is about 1000 m above sea level, will appear larger
(more) than if they are measured at sea level (say Samsun). So in projects, where long
distances or large areas are covered, a sea level reduction is made to plane distance values to
correct for curvature error.

The distance between two points or length of the line can be defined in three ways as seen in
the figure:

1) Ground Distance – G: This is along the vertical

surface of earth. Obviously this is an horizontal
irregular distance, depending up shape of the distance
surface. G is used in walking, pacing to find
or to locate points on the surface.
S surface of
2) Slope Distance – S: Slope distance, as
seen in the figure, is the length of straight ∆H
line joining two points (A and B here). The
magnitude of slope distance will increase A
with the increasing elevation difference D
between points (∆H). Accordingly in horizontal
specifying slope distance (S), we should also vertical
give (determine) the elevation difference
between points.

3) Horizontal Distance – D: This is the distance between verticals passing through A and B,
along a horizontal line (on a horizontal plane). Horizontal distance is the shortest distance
between points A and B. When we say distance, without specifying type, we mean horizontal
distance. Horizontal distance is the distance used in maps, plans, projects, Geographic
Information Systems (GIS).

Slope distance is sometimes used in lay out, but especially slope distances are measured in
modern EDM (Electronic Distance Measurement) instruments. EDM instruments after
measuring the slope distance from EDM unit to the reflector (on the other end of line) can
make conversion to horizontal distance, as well as computing elevation difference (∆H)
between points, if the slope (∆H) is known and input into the instrument.

Amount of slope or inclination can be expressed in different forms, and civil engineers use
slope expressions in their project work, design and in quantity surveying.


1) Vertical Angle – α: This is the angle up or down
from a horizontal line at one of the points. As seen in S
the figure vertical angle is +α from A to B and –α horizontal
(down) from B to A. α seems to be logical way of + αB line
expressing the slope since it is directly proportional to
the amount of slope or elevation difference; but the + up (αB)
minus or plus sign makes α somewhat confusing and α 0 horizontal
for this reason modern EDM instruments prefer to use
Z (zenith angle) as will be explained below. α has - down (αA)
subscript of target.

2) Zenith Angle – Z: This is an angle measured in

vertical plane from zenith line to our slope line (AB).
Zenith line
Zenith line (başucu doğrultusu) at a point is opposite of
vertical line at the same point; i.e. zenith line goes
upward, opposite of vertical line. As seen in the figure, ZA
Z has subscript of end point of the line. If you are at A B
and sighting (target) B, you use B as subscript; and if at ZB S
B use A as subscript. As Z increases the elevation
difference or slope of the line decreases; this is
inversely proportional and somewhat contradicting the vertical
logic but Z is preferred to α since there is no sign (of +
or -) in zenith angle (Z) compared to α. If you prefer to
< 900 (100g) up
use α in your computations, you can use Z + α = 900 Z = 900 (100g) hor.
(100g) expression for conversion of Z to α. > 900 (100g) down

3) Elevation Difference – ∆H: Slope can be expressed B
also in terms of elevation difference between points A
and B, but in this case either slope distance (S) or S ∆HAB
horizontal distance (D) must also be provided. As seen
in the figure ∆H elevation difference may be upward
(+) or downward (-), and of course 0 (zero) if
4) Percent Slope – g%: g is (in meters)
is the elevation difference for 100 m gm = -g% + up
horizontal distance. Percent slope is α 0 horizontal
preferred and used in design, projects and gm = +g% - down
computation of civil engineering projects.
A 100 m

5) n vertical in m horizontal: 2 up in 17 means 3 up in 10
2 m upward in 17 m horizontal distance. This 3
expression is used to express steep construction A 10
slopes in civil engineering construction and 15
excavation or fill up slopes. As you can imagine A
or guess, excavation or fill up slopes are made of 7
steep so that less earthwork is carried out. 7 down in 15

You must know or learn three items in slope and slope expressions:

a) Definitions of slope expressions; as given above

b) Conversions of slope expressions; from one to others
c) Computing horizontal distance from slope distance & vice versa.

Examples of b and c are given in next pages. You can make similar conversions for slopes as
well as for distances (D or S) by drawing a figure (very easily).

Here as an example we will show how to make conversions if slope is given in form of
elevation difference; ∆H

B 1- Assume ∆H and S is given

S ∴ D 2 = S 2 − ∆H 2 will give you horizontal distance. Let us
now try to compute the difference between slope distance
A and horizontal distance. We call this difference as “slope
correction”: C; to see how large C is, rewrite above

S 2 − D 2 = ∆H 2 or in partials
( S + D)( S − D) = ∆H 2

Now we are measuring slope distance and then computing horizontal distance. We know S,

S + D = 2S − C ≈ 2S Since slope is not very large and accordingly C is very

S−D=C small compared to S. So in measurement S − D = C , by

∆H 2
C= can be computed. ∴ D = S − C will give us horizontal distance.

Now if we are making a lay out, in which we know the horizontal distance AB = D in the
project and assume we want to make a slope (S) distance measurement on the surface
(ground). Again if the slope is not very steep (<10%), C will be very small compared to
distance D
∴ S + D = 2 D + C ≈ 2 D & S − D = C by definition

in lay out:
∆H 2
Accordingly 2 D * C = ∆H 2 , C=
∴ S = D + C will give slope distance to be measured.

If the slope is steep (>10%) or if the accuracy requirement is high then we can use the next
term (of Taylor expansion):

∆H 2 ∆H 4 ∆H 2 ∆H 4
in measurement: C = + in lay out: C = +
2S 8S 3 2D 8D 3

The above approach was used (preferred) in making distance measurements along a smooth
surface by putting the tape on the ground in old days. Today EDM will measure D as easy as
S by converting D to S with software in instrument. The only reason we put the method here
OUT”. To summarize

Given (measured) S and ∆H C = S − D is correction for slope
∆H 2
required (compute) D C= ∴D = S −C

Given (project) D and ∆H C = S − D defined
required (compute) S. ∆H 2
(to be measured = S) C= ∴S = D +C


We have different methods of distance measurement to meet different NEEDS and different
RESOURCES. The methods vary in instrumentation, in operator requirement, and also in
cost, time and accuracies (qualities) obtained. The best method is the one which give quality
required by the project (application) in shortest time and most economical way. Selection of a
method or establishing a measuring system requires close considerations of project needs and
resources available in hand (time, money, operator, facilities etc.)

Methods of distance measurement provide different qualities or precisions (accuracies, errors

or standard deviations). So before listing methods, let us see how we express the precision of
measurement methods or instruments.

Accuracy Expressions: Forms

1. 1/n form; like 1/100, 1/1000, 1/5000 etc. This means there is 1 (one) error in n units of
measurement; e.g. if accuracy (precision) is 1/10000 and a distance of 300 m is measured,
its accuracy is said to be 1/10000 or in cm units

10000 m 1m
300 m 300*1/10000 = 0.03 m = 3 cm is the error in 300 m

2. ∓ form: specify the distance and its error in ∓ form. In above example D = 300 m, its error
was computed to be 3 cm, so we can write
D = 300 m ∓ 3 cm or D = 300 m ∓ 0.03 m

This form is used when distance & its error must be given together.

3. ppm = parts per million: The error of modern methods and instruments are given in this
form, usually ppm and also a constant (fixed) error resulting from sophisticated hardware
and software systems in modern instruments. Example:
Precision of a total station (TS) is (10 mm + 5 ppm) or ∓(10 mm + 5 ppm) (with ∓ sign)

You should know conversions of accuracy expressions. As an example:

Accuracy of a TS is 6 mm + 5 ppm and D = 400 m = 400,000 mm

* 1,000,000 5 mm
400,000 400,000*5 / 1,000,000 = 2 mm
∴ 6 mm + 2 mm = 8 mm = ∓ 8 mm or D = 400 m ∓ 8 mm, in form (2)

* 8 mm 400000
1 mm n = 400000 / 8 = 50000 ∴ 1/n = 1/50000, in form (1)

See and study other solved examples.

Methods of Distance Measurement:


Here a standard distance (pace, tape, chain) is used to measure the length of line by scaling
(comparing, counting) the number of pace, tape or chain. This is the oldest and most
classical, standard method of distance measurement. There are two methods used today,
though modern electronic and space methods are replacing them: 1) Pacing 2) Taping.

In pacing, number of paces along the distance to be measured are counted and multiplied
by the length of pace to find the distance. Accuracy of pacing is in the range of 1/100 –
1/300 depending on ground surface and experience of the person. Pacing is a handy and
readily available method (paces are always with you!!!) and can be used in reconnaissance
surveys, site visits, to find and locate points approximately.

Taping – we will talk about taping in some detail after this section. Taping has accuracies
ranging from 1/1000 to 1 to 1 million depending on procedure, talent, skill, patience and
experience of operator; or taping accuracy can be expressed also 1 cm + 250 ppm. See
table for errors & precisions.


These are called also optical or tacheometric methods and the distances are determined by
using an equation, indirectly. Two most commonly known indirect methods are
1) substance bar and 2) stadia method.

In substance bar a 2 m long bar is placed over the end point of the line perpendicular to the
line and horizontal. The angle subtended between the ends of the bar is measured from (at)
the other end of line as seen in the figure.

From figure D can be computed as

α/2 Tan (α/2) = (2/2) / D ∴ D = 1* Cot (α/2),


A α B
but α is usually very small as a result of long
distances. In this case effect of error in
horizontal angle on distance becomes very
large and produces a large error. For example for D = 250 m, mD = ∓1 m (see problem 12
in errors). So this method is not suitable for long distances.

Stadia method uses stadia hairs on the objective of telescope in theodolites. Accuracy of
stadia ranges from 1/300 to 1/1000 depending on accuracy of stadia readings on level rod.
Stadia gives accuracies which may be sufficient for low accuracy works like mapping of
small areas, hydrographic, topographic surveys. In old days (before EDM & GPS; before
1960’s) all detail surveys, to make topographic maps, were carried out by stadia surveys.
But nowadays, detail surveys are carried out faster and more accurate by versatile EDM
and GPS instruments. But let us write here at least stadia equations (expressions) to
determine horizontal distance (D) and elevation of points (H)

u: upper stadia hair reading on level rod leveling
m: middle stadia hair reading on level rod rod u
ℓ: lower stadia hair reading on level rod Zenith m s
Z: zenith angle (for inclined) of line of sight
ZB ℓ
K: stadia constant of instrument
K=100 usually
s: stadia interval B
D: horizontal distance
H: elevation of point a
a: height of instrument D
stadia interval: s=u−
(or s = 2(m − ) = 2(u − m) in case)
Horizontal distance D is given:
AB = D = K .s. sin 2 Z

HB = HA + a + K .s. sin( 2.Z )

p.s. When line of sight is horizontal ( Z = 90 0 = 100 g ), equations become simple:

D = K .s HB = HA + a as a special case.


EDM method or instruments employ and use electromagnetic energy (speed in vacuum
300,000 km/sec) to measure distances. The method as an idea was on the scene after
determination of speed of light in 1860. But the problem was how to measure time of such
small amount accurately. Let us see now, what was difficulty. Say you want to measure a
distance of 300 m by using electromagnetic energy (could be light) with a speed of
300,000 km/sec.!! If t is the time which the light takes to go along the line and to come
back (reflect):
t t
300m = v. , 300m = 300,000,000m. ∴t = 2 * 10 −6 sec
2 2

This is a very very small amount and can only be measured in a laboratory with very
heavy, sophisticated instrumentation. The difficulty will increase if we consider now
precision. Say we want to measure 300 m distance with a precision (accuracy) of ∓ 1 cm
(1/30,000). Then ∆t accuracy required in time will be:
2 * 10 −6 2
∆t = = * 10 −10 sec ,
30,000 3

that is only possible with an atomic clock of $100,000 worth!

Then how EDM’s overcome this difficulty in measuring time of travel of electromagnetic
energy? EDM instruments do not measure time elapsed for signal to go and come back

from reflector, but rather they measure phase difference between going (emitted,
transmitted) and reflected (coming back) signals. A wave makes a complete phase or cycle
in 2π (3600, 400g).
It is said that points along a wave are at
C different phases, or there is phase
difference between different points along a
D wave.
A Points A & B are in the same phase
because the distance between A & B is a
2π (3600)
full wavelength. The points along a wave,
λ = wave length which are not at intervals of full
wavelength (or full multiple of wavelength
(λ)) are said to be in phase differences; see figure:
Phase difference between A and C is λ/2
Phase difference between A and D is λ
Phase difference between A and E is 3λ/2

When the wave is reflected back (by (from) prism), the phase of reflected wave will not be
the same as emitted (going) wave unless the distance is full multiple of wavelength. EDM
measures this phase difference between going and reflected waves. The distance (slope
distance) to be measured then is
S= (n * λ + ∆λ )
n is determined by using different wavelengths.

Since phase difference ∆φ takes a value between 0 (zero) and 2π, it can easily be measured
and ∆λ = λ will give the fraction (residual) of distance which is not a full wavelength.

In EDM we have two issues to deal with, namely:

1) how to transmit energy,
2) how to make measurements,
both of which are important. To send energy easily and with simple instrumentation, we
should use short wavelength (high frequency) energy; while to make measurement easily
and precisely, we prefer to use long wavelength (low frequency) energies. Then, how are
we going to do this? Well, that is achieved by what we call MODULATION.

Modulation of waves combines advantages of high frequency and low frequency waves. In
modulation we use high frequency waves to transmit low frequency measuring waves. This
is very similar to radio broadcasting. There are three types of modulation of waves
1) FM; frequency modulation,
2) AM; Amplitude modulation, and
3) IM; Impulse modulation.
These are shown in figure. FM radios, for example, employ frequency modulation; to get
cheap broadcasting with clear reception but in a short (local) range. (see figures)

The accuracies (precisions) obtained by EDM distance measurement varies from mm to

several cm depending on instrumentation and method of measurement. In average 5 mm +

3 ppm can be given. The cost of EDM instruments vary from $5000 to $20000 depending
in range and accuracy (precision).

Today EDM units are combined with theodolites and versatile Total Stations (TS) are
available in our services.

Modern Total Stations (TS) are mostly compact, one piece integrated instruments; they are
called total station because we can measure almost all geometric quantities like: distance,
length, vertical and horizontal angles, directions, azimuths, elevation and elevation
differences, coordinates etc.

A Total Station consists of following parts:

1) EDM unit
2) An electronic theodolite
3) A computer
4) A software
5) A memory (disc or card)
You can store (record) data (field measurement) in memory and then plug and transfer it to
office computer; resulting an automated computing, drafting and drawing (map) system.


We shall look to 1) operator errors 2) environmental errors and 3) instrumental errors.

1) Operator errors in modern electronic instruments are minor here. Setting up an

instrument over the point, measuring height of instrument and measuring height of target
can be mentioned.

2) Environmental errors are mostly atmospheric effect and uncertainty of atmospheric

effect because of changing temperature, humidity and pressure, variations of atmospheric
conditions along the path of signal is also important. Some instruments use correction
(models) for atmospheric effects. We should know and understand these correction model
as well as other models used in instrument to make computations and adjustments.

3) Instrumental errors: These may be reflector offset, reflector constant or scale factor or
what is called constant error. We can check some of the system or constant errors of EDM
and reflector by one of the following methods:

a) Baseline: If we have a baseline with known length, EDM instrument can be checked
regularly over this baseline to see whether there is any change in instrument constant
over the time.

b) High Quality EDM Unit: If we have a better and higher quality EDM, we can
meaure some distance by that EDM and by our’s and compare the results for any
change in instrument constant.

c) Over a Distance: We can measure a certain distance with our instrument once in one
part and once in two parts and determine the instrument constant from the difference,
of two sets as seen below:


A L1 C L2 B

AB = L, AC = L1, CB = L 2 , C = instrument (system) constant

L1 + C + L2 + C = L + C , ∴ C = L1 − L 2 − L

d) Any Line: Any line can be established and the length of line can be measured
periodically, so that (at least) the changes in instrumented constant (if any) can be

p.s. The distances can be measured by EDM either 1) phase differences or 2) pulse
method. Pulse method is more widely used in tracking satellites to investigate the
geodynamical phenomena.