University of New BrunswickGeodesy and Geomatics Engineering

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UNB's Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering:
Providing Careers and Research for the 21st Century

"If they are willing to travel, we can almost guarantee our students a job when they graduate," says Alfred Kleusberg, Chair of the Department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering (usually referred to as the GGE department) at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. "Our aim is to maintain world class undergraduate and graduate education of highly skilled engineers capable of meeting regional, national, and international needs. To increase public awareness about what we do, in 1993 we changed the name of the department to Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering from Surveying Engineering."

Geodesy is the science of mathematically determining the size and shape of the earth and the nature of the earth's gravity field. It applies the principles of geometry to surveying and mapping the earth.

"Geomatics is a term that has been adopted by governments and private industry across Canada and which is becoming accepted worldwide," says Sue Nichols, one of the Department's geomatics professors. Geographical information, analysed with state-of-the-art computer hardware and software, plays an important role in activities such as environmental studies; management of land and marine resources; monitoring of dams, oil fields, and mines for subsidence or movement; navigation of ships and aircraft; oceanography; real estate transactions; and tourism.

"Our graduates can be found around the world," explains Dr. Kleusberg. His examples include graduates who are working in Russia and Peru, helping to put state-owned land into the hands of private citizens. Former students are using the satellite Global Positioning System (GPS) to monitor the amount of ground subsidence in oil fields in Venezuela. In Thailand, high-tech surveying for forestry, agriculture, and urban planning is being supplied by a former student. There is a three-year project taking place in Argentina to transfer technology, such as the use of the GPS, to modernize and make more cost-effective a land registration system.

"The same Global Positioning System that is being used to help map the earth's surface and the ocean bottom, is also being used to aid in mapping the earth's atmosphere," says Richard Langley, one the department's geodesists and a contributing editor of the GPS industry's only trade journal, GPS World. The signals from the GPS satellites must travel through the atmosphere on their way to a GPS receiver. As a result, they `pick up' information about the ionized part of the atmosphere - the ionosphere- and the electrically neutral part, the bulk of which is in the atmosphere's weather machine - the troposphere.

"The department is also investigating ways in which the Global Positioning System can be used to help understand the earthquake mechanism in British Columbia and to aid the aviation industry in navigating aircraft en route and during approaches to airports," explains Dr. Langley. His research group is also working with the Canadian Space Agency researching the possibility of a GPS receiver being carried onboard a future Canadian scientific satellite to provide, among other things, information on the position, velocity, and attitude of the satellite.

Russian was the language of choice in the department during four months in 1996. "Russia's Land Reform Committee, Roskomzem, has chosen UNB to impart democratic geomatics to its members," states Dr. Nichols. Four delegations of senior bureaucrats have been sent to New Brunswick to learn about land surveying and land registration. With the assistance of the World Bank, Russia is in the process of privatizing land and therefore needs to build a cadastral system. Unencumbered by antiquated registry systems, as are some countries in the West, Russia has a clean slate from which to work. Using the expertise of private land survey firms, Natural Resources Canada, and the New Brunswick Geographic Information Corporation, UNB is making available access to a wide range of knowledge for the Russians. They are being exposed to such techniques as surveying boundaries, registering deeds, running surveying companies, and buying, selling and developing land.

From Russian to robotics, it is all accommodated in geodesy and geomatics engineering. Although new methods developed in the department for modelling and predicting ground movements in mining areas are being adapted by the mining industry in Poland, where extraction of minerals takes place under large cities, the safety of miners is also being considered. "Eventually, the use of robots will increase efficiency in mining and eliminate the loss of life through mining disasters," states Adam Chrzanowski, head of the department's Canadian Centre for Geodetic Engineering. "Canada is a leader in the development of fully automatic mining, and our department is involved in the development of survey robots. These robots will be used to perform underground mapping activities and direct the mining machinery, and it can all be done out of harm's way sitting in an office on the surface." The operators of these robotics will make use of artificial vision systems, lasers, and inertial sensors for navigating and positioning in the mine. Similar approaches are being planned for detailed mapping of the ocean floor and the surfaces of the moon and other planets.

As the world's dams and reservoirs age or new ones are built, Dr. Chrzanowski is working on methods of early detection of any movements, or deformations, in those already in use or that may occur in new construction. "Owners of a dam in Pakistan and a company building a new reservoir in California are both interested in our methodologies," says Dr. Chrzanowski.

"When the United States Geological Survey wanted new maps of the continental shelf, it came to the department's Ocean Mapping Group," says Larry Mayer, holder of UNB's chair in ocean mapping. "With the data we collect, we produce a three-dimensional computer image that you can actually `fly' through, as though you were underwater moving across the ocean floor. You can see the distribution of materials - where there is sand and where there is mud - as well as geological fault lines and large man-made objects such as sewer pipes."

"We map the ocean for three basic reasons: economics, security, and curiosity," says Dave Wells, head of the Ocean Mapping Group. "Ocean maps are essential to the management of ocean resources, which include passive use of the oceans for recreation, transportation, energy, and communications, and for extracting food, oil, gas, and other minerals from the oceans." A better understanding of the three quarters of the earth's surface covered by oceans is important, "if we are to understand the processes of global change, the hydrological and carbon cycles, weather and climate, plate tectonics, and the history of life on earth," explains Dr. Wells.

Ocean mapping information is used by mariners, fishermen, ocean engineers, oceanographers, geologists, geophysicists, environmentalists, and biologists. It is used to assist in safe navigation, for the dredging of channels for ports and harbours, port construction, tidal power, aquaculture, management and control of the fisheries, waste dumping management, erosion control, definition of national boundaries, the exploration for and exploitation of offshore mineral resources, pollution track predictions, and definition of the vertical control datum for surveying and mapping. National interest in the offshore is proportional to the price of oil, the scarcity of fish, the perceived dangers of ocean pollution, and threats to sovereignty. These indicators are unlikely to decline over the next decade.

The application and development of geomatics systems doesn't stop on the ground or even under the water. Researchers in the department have a long tradition of examining and refining the geometric accuracy of imagery from space, and then integrating this data with computerized geographic information systems (GIS). Eugene Derenyi, the department's recently retired expert in this field, was instrumental in testing some of the early radar remote sensing components of Canada's RADARSAT satellite. As well, Dr. Derenyi and Dr. Salem Masry (a former faculty member and now President of Universal Systems Ltd., a leading Canadian GIS software developer and vendor) collaborated on early developments in the integration and rectification of satellite imagery into the CARIS GIS software.

The department is staying at the forefront of recent developments in moving digital image processing techniques into everyday mapping applications. Combining new mapping and GPS technologies with surveying and land administration expertise in tidal boundaries, department researchers are working with provincial officials to help develop new approaches to defining and delineating protected coastal lands in New Brunswick.

This article has attempted to explain the exciting world of geomatics. For those wishing to experience other cultures, the department has exchange programs with the University of Hannover, in Germany, and the University of Maine, in the United States. The program attracts students from around the world, and this year there are men and women from 26 countries on 5 continents. Geomatics is one of the few fields of endeavour in which companies operating worldwide still actively recruit graduates (we've compiled a list of some of these companies' web sites), and this should continue well into the twenty-first century.