Practical Aspects of GPS Surveying

Global Positioning System surveying for field applications: Signals. Coordinate systems. Datums. Cartographic projections. Satellite orbits. Choosing hardware. Strategies for data collection and analysis. Assessing uncertainty. Geocoding satellite images. Integrating data with Geographic Information Systems. Emerging technologies.


  • Calculus and/or elementary vector matrix algebra (Math 210, 211, 221 or equivalent) or consent of instructor
  • Some experience with field mapping, navigation, or orienteering is desirable.
  • Familiarity with computers and/or high-level programming/scripting languages is desirable.
  • This course is NOT open to freshmen.

Cross-listing departments

  • Geoscience (GEOSCI 444)
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE 444)
  • Geological Engineering (GLE 444)
  • Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (IES 444)


  • Number of credits is two (2)
  • The schedule is 5-week modular class beginning week 10.
  • (3.75 hours of lecture per week) x (5 weeks) + 3 x (4-hour field exercises) = 30.75 hours of instruction

How to register

Please send a message to describing your experience and background in the quantitative aspects needed to master the material to be covered in the course. The message should include the numbers, names and grades of your math courses? Also, please indicate your experience (and comfort level) programming computers. In particular, have you ever used Matlab?

Expanded course description

  • Positioning by multiple measurements of distance (trilateration).
  • How does GPS work?
  • How well does it work?
  • Field mapping exercise: mapping and plotting a campus trajectory.
  • Fundamental geodesy: ellipsoid, geoid, coordinates, datums, cartographic projections.
  • Review of Linear Algebra.
  • Choosing a surveying strategy: the tradeoff between cost and accuracy.
  • Receiver position from Code Observations (pseudoranges).
  • Baseline computation and M-files. Coordinate Changes and Satellite Position.
  • Receiver position from pseudoranges by two different methods. Clock offsets.
  • Receiver position from phase observations.
  • Kinematic and Rapid Static surveying.
  • Real Time Kinematic surveying.
  • Student presentations of surveying projects.

Need for this course

Many disciplines studying the Earth, its environment and anthropogenic impact on them involve mapping or sampling object in the field. The Global Positioning System allows anyone equipped with a receiver (costing as little as $100) to estimate their position coordinates (latitude, longitude and elevation) to within 10 meters easily. With a more sophisticated instruments and techniques, accuracies of better than 1 cm are possible. Applications range from scientific (e.g., measuring tectonic plates as they move) to the practical (“how do I get back to where I parked my car). If students are to apply these techniques (or supervise others to do so) in tomorrow’s world, they should understand the basic technical underpinnings of GPS.

Relationship to other courses offered at UW-Madison

The 444 course is complementary to, but distinct from, the following other courses: Geography 370, Geography 377 (Introduction to Geographic Information Systems), Geological Engineering 302 (Introduction to Electro-Optical and Microwave Remote Sensing Systems), Geological Engineering 303 (Introduction to Remote Sensing Digital Processing), Geological Engineering 304 (Remote Sensing Visual Image Interpretation). It is important to distinguish between the two similar acronyms, GPS and GIS. The former stands for Global Positioning System and is the topic of the proposed course. The latter stands for Geographic Information System and is “downstream” in the flow of information.

Will this course meet a requirement for the major in your department or another department?

YES, The course 444 does count towards the 34 credits of course work in Geoscience required for the major. It also counts toward the requirement of 12-15 credits of upper-level course work. It also counts as a technical elective in the undergraduate Geological Engineering (GLE) progam


We will work together in a blended learning format as described here:

Complete schedule: Geosci444Schedule2015a

Learning Objectives

  • To understand the current abilities, future potential, and limiting factors of GPS surveys
  • To master the criteria for choosing instrumentation hardware and analysis software
  • To view practical examples applications of GPS surveying
  • To apply GPS surveying to a practical example of interest
  • To develop critical thinking skills, particularly in spatial reasoning about quantitative data
  • To develop the ability to work in a team, conceive and strategize a project
  • To make judgments of the tradeoff between accuracy and cost

How will students be evaluated?

  • Three problem sets involving data analysis with Matlab.
  • One proposal for a project.
  • Project, described above.
  • No final exam.
Item Percent
Field report for field exercise 1 5
Field report for field exercise 2 5
Field report for field exercise 3 5
Problem Set 1 10
Problem Set 2 10
Problem Set 3 10
Proposal for project 10
Oral presentation of project (as evaluated by instructor) 10
Oral presentation of project (as evaluated by peers) 10
Written report on project 25
Total 100


  • Five-week modular course beginning week 10 of Spring Semester.
  • Class will meet Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 1:45 PM to 3:15 PM.
  • Location for all class meetings is Room 2261 of Engineering Hall (ENGR)
  • First meeting is 1:45 PM Monday April 6th, 2015.
  • Field exercise I is from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Saturday April 18, 2015.
  • Field exercise II is from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Saturday April 25 2015.
  • Field exercise III is from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Saturday May 2 2015.
  • Student presentations of projects are tentatively scheduled for the week of Final Exams.
  • Office Hours: Mondays 3:30 to 5:00 PM in Weeks Hall Room A248

Description of projects

Working in teams of two, the students will use GPS receivers to perform a survey of interest to them. They will then present the results of the survey to the class in a short, 15-minute oral presentation, as a team of two. Examples of pr
ojects might include:

  • Locations of parking spots for a certain type of vehicle (e.g., bicycle, handicap van, etc) available on campus at the time(s) of the survey(s).
  • Establishing a grid for environmental research on University Lands, e.g. Arboretum
  • Monitoring the trajectory, including estimates of velocity and acceleration for recreational vehicles (e.g., bicycles, rowing shells, sailboats, canoes, skateboards, cross-country skiing, etc.)
  • Locating sampling, measurement, or observation points for geologic, biologic or anthropological research project.
  • Locations for procuring pizza near campus.
  • Locations of bike racks on campus.

Prior to undertaking the project, each team will write, a brief proposal of the problem to be addressed and the technical approach for meeting it, including the trade-off between cost and accuracy.

Recommended Learning Materials for 444 Course

Strang, G., and K. Borre (1997), Linear algebra, geodesy, and GPS, xvi, 624 p. pp., Wellesley-Cambridge Press, Wellesley, MA. [$65.00] Warning: ordering this book through the usual channels may be slow. Please allow enough time for delivery. If you are interested in taking this course, please order the book in January! You can order it directly from the publisher if you pay by check, but not credit card. See
Leick, A. (2004). GPS satellite surveying. Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley.
Mathworks MatLab Release 2014A

Click here to go to Campus Software library


Eight Things Engineering Students Should Know About Blended Learning

  1. As recently as 10 years ago, college graduates were hired because of what they knew. In today’s global economy, you will be hired because of what you can do.   What you are able to do will develop in coops and internships but also depends more and more on the student experience on campus.  Classroom experiences must now develop the ability “to do,” not just the ability to listen and retain facts.
  2. In response to this situation, our faculty are striving to convert their courses to a blended learning format. This format uses technology for lecture-type material (which contributes to what students know) and increases one-on-one or small group active learning (doing something) with the course instructor.  The instructor will spend less time talking at you in-person and more time interacting with you to answer your questions.   The instructor will help you learn the material while you are doing something such as problem solving or conducting a lab experiment.  To be successful in today’s world you must become active in the learning process.
  3. Because of the in-person interactions with instructors and active problem solving, blended learning is not the same as on-line learning
  4. Over time, you will be seeing more courses in the College of Engineering offered in a blended learning format. Eventually the majority of required courses will be offered this way.
  5. Studies (both local in CoE and national) show students learn as much or more in the blended learning format versus a typical lecture format.  (see
  6. During its more interactive class time, the blended learning approach eliminates the need to “keep quiet” in class to avoid disrupting lectures and allows you to ask questions without the entire room being focused on you. Take advantage of this new freedom.  Take the initiative and ask questions of your peers, your TA, and your instructor to learn how to complete the assigned activities.  If you understand what to do, proceed ahead with the activity.  If you are confused, ask questions and get unstuck as quickly as possible.
  7. Your overall work-load in a course should not significantly change in quantity but may change in nature. You may feel like you are putting more into the course because your learning experience will be active, not passive.   Your active involvement may be through short quizzes to ensure you are ready for active learning and more problem solving.  There may be fewer in-class meetings.
  8. Preparation ahead of in-class time is critical for success in the blended learning format. Readings, online lessons or videos, and short online quizzes are designed to prepare you for in-class activities. If you do not prepare properly, you will not thrive in this active learning format, and you will not be well prepared to be a successful engineer out in the Real World.

    Questions?  Ask your instructor.

For more on blended learning in the College of Engineering see these seminars:

Katherine (Trina) McMahon, Professor
Chair of the College of Engineering Education Innovation Committee
Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Bacteriology
Co-Faculty Director, Delta Program (
University of Wisconsin – Madison, Madison, WI  53706-1691



Earth Bridge

It’s a freeware (or donationware) program that listens to NMEA GPS data stream on a serial port and sends the data to a google earth .kml file along with a .net service which lets google earth know when the file is automatically updated. Neal has tried it with the Garmin Etrex and another GPS receiver and it seems to work well with the free version of google earth.  The Earth Bridge software can be found at


For tagging digital photos with GPS coordinates. No need for tricky connections between the receiver and the camera. Clever!


For translating data from one format to another….

Automatic Point Positioning Service (APPS)

Estimate position for a single GPS station with sub-meter precision from a RINEX file containing (preferably dual-frequency) phase data from a geodetic – grade GPS receiver. The receiver may be moving.

Online  Positioning  User  Service (OPUS) – Static

Estimate relative position for a fixed station with with respect to several stations of the CORS network in the US. Requires a RINEX file containing dual-frequency phase data from a geodetic – grade GPS receiver. Two
different solutions are offered: Static (OPUS-S) and Rapid Static (OPUS-RS).

TEQC – The Toolkit for GPS/GLONASS/Galileo/SBAS/Beidou/QZSS Data

Teqc (pronouced “tek”) is a simple yet powerful and unified approach to solving many pre-processing problems with GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, SBAS, Beidou-2/Compass, and QZSS data, especially in RINEX or BINEX format:

  • translation: binary data reading/translation of native binary formats (optional RINEX file creation for OBS, NAV, and/or MET files or optional creation of BINEX)
  • editing: including time windowing; file splicing; SV or other filtering; metadata extraction, editing, and/or correction of RINEX header metadata or BINEX metadata records
  • quality check: quality checking of GPS and/or GLONASS data (native binary, BINEX, or RINEX observation files; with or without ephemerides)

These three main functions (from which teqc gets its name: translation, editing, and quality check) can be performed altogether, in pairs, or separately.

 GPS Visualizer

Translate GPX file downloaded from Garmin handheld GPS receiver to space-delimited text file. Draw points on a map.

Extracting coordinates from a photo file

GPS receivers

To be provided by the department of Geoscience in cooperation with Geological Engineering program. Click here for more information about the GPS facility.
The City of Madison GPS station logs Dat files at 5 seconds and RINEX files at 10 seconds.