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Surveyors determine new height for Washington Monument in DC


In this Oct. 8, 2014, file photo, a photographer is silhouetted in the reflecting pool as he captures the sunrise behind the Washington Monument in Washington. Government surveyors have determined a new height for the Washington Monument that’s nearly 10 inches shorter than what has been thought for more than 130 years, officials will announce Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Government surveyors have determined a new height for the Washington Monument that’s nearly 10 inches shorter than what has been recorded for more than 130 years, officials said Monday.

The new measurement puts the monument at 554 feet, 7 and eleven-thirty-seconds of an inch, as measured from the floor of the main entrance to the top. Ever since the stone obelisk was completed in 1884, however, the historic height has been recorded at 555 feet, 5 and 1/8 inches. It’s a number circulated for decades on tours of the capital and in civics classes about the monument honoring the nation’s first president.

So could this be a case of an incredible shrinking monument? Has it sunk into the ground more than previously thought? No, not even close, said the chief scientist at the National Geodetic Survey, which conducted the measurement with accuracy to within one millimeter.

Modern international standards from the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat — an official guideline for building measurements — call for a different base point than what was likely used in the 1880s, said Dru Smith, chief geodesist with the National Geodetic Survey. This standard measures from the lowest open-air pedestrian entrance to the building.

“The building didn’t change height because of anything; it is just where you start from,” Smith said.

The original measurement conducted in 1884 by Lt. Col. Thomas Casey is believed to have used four brass markers as a base for measurement. Those markers remain in place about 9 inches below ground off each corner of the monument. It’s possible the markers were at ground level in the past. A new plaza was installed around the monument more recently, and “it’s clear that what was ground level has changed over the years,” Smith said.

Measurements from the brass markers to the top in 1999 and 2014 essentially reconfirmed the original measurement, showing the 1884 measurement was done with “incredible accuracy.”

The only observable height change was the pyramid-shaped tip had been rounded off over time. Surveyors in 1934 also noticed the peak had been rounded and believed it was due to frequent lightning strikes that melted the aluminum tip.

“Well, this time around, we took very careful measurements,” Smith said. “We were able to determine about 3/8 of an inch had been melted off from the very top.”

That means the original 1884 measurement, completed with much less sophisticated equipment, was within ¾ of an inch of the findings from the newest survey, using the original brass markers as a base point.

“It’s remarkable, quite honestly, that they had the ability to get such an accurate measurement back in that time,” Smith said.

When the monument was completed in 1884, it was the world’s tallest structure until 1889 when the Eiffel Tower was built. It remains by far the tallest structure in the nation’s capital, which strictly restricts building heights. Most buildings are shorter than the U.S. Capitol dome, which rises 288 feet.

The new survey was conducted while the monument was wrapped in scaffolding for restoration work following a 2011 earthquake. Earlier survey results showed the monument did not sink any further into the ground as a result of the 5.8-magnitude earthquake. The monument was built on land that used to be underwater, and it has sunk about 2.2 inches since 1901.

Lest anyone be confused by the changing measurements, the National Park Service as caretaker of the monument has no intention of changing its brochures or description of the height to reflect the new numbers.

“For our purposes we’ll still use the historic height rather than the architectural height, since they’re measured from different places,” said spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles.

The extensive survey will give the Park Service new data as a baseline to track any changes in the monument’s height, tilt or compression in the future. The National Geodetic Survey and National Park Service revealed the survey results on Presidents Day, which also celebrates Washington’s birthday.

“I think we can all agree the significance of the Washington Monument is really far greater than the architectural qualities or even its height,” said Mike Commisso, a cultural resources specialist for the National Mall. “It continues to serve as a memorial to one of the most influential and prominent public figures in our nation’s history.”

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In this Sept. 26, 2014, photo, the monuments of Washington are silhouetted through the lifting fog over the nation’s capitol as seen from an overlook in Arlington, Va. From left are, the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the Capitol, the Smithsonian Castle, and the Library of Congress. Government surveyors have determined a new height for the Washington Monument that’s nearly 10 inches shorter than what has been thought for more than 130 years, officials will announce Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)



What is Land Surveying?

What is Land Surveying?

Surveying and land surveying is the measurement and mapping of our surrounding environment using mathematics, specialized technology and equipment. Surveyors measure a wide number of things on the land, in the sky, or on the ocean bed. They even measure polar ice caps.

What do Surveyors do?

Land surveyors work in the office and in the field – from suits to boots. Out in the field, they use the latest technology such as high order GPS, Robotic Total Stations (Theodolites), and aerial and terrestrial scanners to map an area, making computations and taking photos as evidence.

In the office, Surveyors then use sophisticated software, such as Auto-cad to draft plans and map the onsite measurements. Surveyors work on a diverse variety of projects from land subdivision and mining exploration, to tunnel building and major construction, which means no two days are the same. They are experts in determining land size and measurement. They also give advice and provide information to guide the work of engineers, architects and developers.

Watch this video to find out more about what Surveyors do, and how they are crucial to national development. You can also view the South Australian version of this video here.

What is surveying and spatial science?

Surveying is related to the broad areas of Spatial Science or Geospatial Science. Spatial means “the relative place or location of something”. Spatial Science helps to understand the relationship between the community and the environment to help predict trends and patterns. Surveying is first done to establish the boundaries, and Spatial Technologies are used to interpret and report on the data.

This data is used whenever we search on Google Maps or track a location on a GPS unit. Other Spatial professionals will use the data to help establish trends or predict changes to the environment such as the spread of the Queensland Floods in 2011.

The main types of surveying specializations are Land, Mining, Engineering, and Hydrographic. Other Spatial Science fields include Geodesy, Topographic Surveying, Remote Sensing, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). For more information on Spatial Science, go to www.destinationspatial.org

Why is surveying important?

We depend on surveying to ensure order in the physical world around us. Surveyors play an integral role in land development, from the planning and design of land subdivisions through to the final construction of roads, utilities and landscaping.

Surveyors are among good company, working closely with their peers in the fields of engineering, architecture, geology and planning. Their role underpins these industries; Surveyors are the first people on any construction site, measuring and mapping the land. These primary measurements are then used by architects to understand and make the most of the unique landscape when designing and engineers to plan structures accurately and safely, ensuring buildings not only fit with the landscape but are able to be constructed.

Why become a surveyor?

Surveying provides a great diversity of indoor and outdoor work, meaning you won’t be chained to a desk.

  • There is job variety; you can choose to work in many different industries from IT to Archaeology.
  • The high demand for Surveyors means it’s easy to get a job, 95% of students find work within 4 months after graduating.
  • The salaries are excellent; graduates earn an average of $52k p.a.
  • Surveyors have access to the latest technology and equipment.
  • Surveyors can work for themselves, in private firms or in government departments.
  •  Want to read more?

Download these PDF booklets for a more in-depth view of the various roles you could choose in Rural and Urban Surveying.



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