What surveyors and geospatial engineers do

career in surveyingSurveyors work alongside other engineers, architects and land developers to define legal land boundaries and provide essential engineering support for urban development, large infrastructure projects, the development and operation of mines and the management of the environment and resources.

Geospatial engineers are the most recent additions to the engineering family. They use new and developing technologies such as GPS, satellite imagery, laser mapping and fast computing to create complex layers of interconnected geographic information. Today we can measure position very accurately. We can make maps and look down on the world from airborne and satellite platforms, and visualise the natural and built environment in 3D. Geospatial information constantly reveals new insights about our world and our place in it.

There are many types of surveyors and geospatial engineers, some listed below:

What land and cadastral surveyors do

Land surveyors play a crucial role in land development, mapping and engineering construction. Registered land surveyors have a special status as they are the only professional who legally define the dimensions of new or existing property. The Australian property market is worth over $1000 billion. Surveyors advise land owners, lawyers, builders, architects, planners and other engineers.

To become a registered surveyor, graduates must pass the exam of the Board of Surveying and Spatial Information of New South Wales. Surveyors are always in demand with state and federal government, local councils and private companies. Land surveyors are skilled in land measurement, land law, mapping and geographic concepts. They enjoy working both indoors and outdoors, using modern measurement technology.

Cadastral land surveyors in the private sector often begin their careers with outdoor, hands-on tasks. As they progress, they develop their professional skills with client liaison, project development and more legal and business matters.

In government departments, graduates initially work on implementing operations relating to land, water, roads, rail or harbours, depending on the department. They progress to develop policy and regulations and advise on special case or unusual surveys. All surveying relies on geometry, mapping and a spatial brain to fit measurements together. Surveyors are the measurement experts.

What engineering, mining and hydrographic surveyors do

Engineering surveyors

From the development of the Olympic stadium, the Pacific Highway, the Lane Cove tunnel or the huge new rail networks, to all new major high-rise developments in Australia and internationally, engineering surveyors are there from project launch to completion.

The increased scale and complexity of new infrastructure is very challenging, however, engineering surveyors are assisted by recent advances in measurement technology including:

  • laser scanning
  • surveying robots
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
  • High-precision satellite positioning techniques, including GPS.

Engineering surveyors are sought after by major development companies like Leightons, Brookfield-Multiplex, Lend Lease or Meriton, where they oversee all aspects of major urban development including pre- and post-construction surveys, through to ongoing monitoring of finished projects.

Engineering surveyors often begin their careers in the field, leading parties responsible for the set out of complex projects. They go on to manage teams of survey parties and work closely with project managers and allied professionals to ensure projects are completed on time and on budget. As projects become more ambitious, the experienced engineering surveyor must design new techniques with the latest technology to ensure challenging building specifications are met.

There is a lot of personal satisfaction in the work of an engineering surveyor as the final project is a constant reminder of the contribution they made to the completion of the project.

Mining surveyors

Mining is our most valuable export industry and mining surveying is critical for supporting today’s and tomorrow’s mine operations.

The expansion of mining in Australia has produced a desperate need for mining surveyors who are an integral part of the mineral production process. Mining surveyors draft mine plans and determine how the mine will operate efficiently and safely, as well as helping to minimise environmental damage and remediate old mine sites.

Mining surveyors work at all kinds of mines from open-cut iron ore mines in Western Australia to underground coal mines in New South Wales and Victoria, as well as overseas. Mining surveyors are in great demand by companies like RioTinto, BHP Billiton, Vale, Newcrest, Xstrata and Centennial Coal.

Mine surveyors use the latest in GPS and automated surveying technology, including UAVs to:

  • explore new ore bodies
  • calculate how much material can be extracted
  • survey stockpiles
  • optimise the design and operation of open-cut and underground mines.

In an emergency, they are essential in efforts to rescue trapped miners.

Mining surveyors must take exams administered by the Board of Surveying and Spatial Information after they graduate to become registered mining surveyors.

Mining surveyors usually begin their careers in a hands-on role, dealing with the day-to-day operations of the mine. After registration, they supervise teams of surveyors and liaise with mine managers and allied professionals. Some may choose to take further study and become more involved with the business side of the mining company, while others will develop their technical skills and advise on new techniques to improve yields, cut costs and maximise profits.,

This highly paid segment of the surveying profession is an attractive option for professional surveyors.

Mining surveyors get a lot of personal satisfaction from improved mine yield and the smooth operations of the mines for which they are responsible.

The work is very 3-dimensional and a mining surveyor must have a good spatial awareness. Mining surveying is great work for a hands-on, pragmatic professional who isn’t afraid of large machines and operations and who is looking to work efficiently, but in a safe manner.

Hydrographic surveyors

Hydrographic surveyors map:

  • rivers
  • harbours
  • coastlines
  • seabeds.

Hydrographic surveyors also measure the impact on the coast and offshore structures of the ocean, climate change and development.

Hydrographic surveyors monitor marine environments and prepare digital charts for navigation, as well as supervising the offshore construction of pipelines and submarine cables, drill platforms and wind farms, piers and seawalls. Employers in Australia and overseas include governments, oil companies, such as Shell and Chevron, and engineering companies building new energy and transport infrastructure.

After graduation, it is possible to gain professional recognition of their specialised skills through hydrographic certification. 

They use:

  • GPS technology linked with sonars
  • tide gauges
  • underwater laser scanners.

When the Pasha Bulker was beached off Newcastle in 2007, hydrographic surveyors helped salvage operations by mapping an exit route, avoiding submerged rocks. Hydrographic surveyors were also involved in the recent refloating of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy.

A career in hydrographic surveying can be extremely exciting and rewarding with outdoor work on the rivers and seas or in the office carrying out important calculations.

What geospatial scientists and engineers do

Geospatial engineers

Modern geospatial technologies are used to create solutions in an ever-widening range of industries. Currently, there are more well-paid jobs than there are geospatial engineering graduates – in private industry and the government sector, in Australia and overseas.

Geospatial engineers measure large-scale and/or highly dynamic features using technology such as:

  • global navigation satellite positioning systems, such as GPS
  • airborne LiDAR
  • terrestrial laser scanners
  • high-resolution mobile laser scanning
  • robotic total stations
  • UAVs.

Geospatial engineers face the challenge of managing and combining huge volumes of geospatial data from various measurement techniques of differing precision and at differing times.

Mapping and visualisation

This includes mapping in 3D of everything from the interior of buildings to the Earth’s terrain, and the generation of amazing flythroughs for land use planning and management.

Spatially-enabled industries

This includes robotics and machine automation, smart buildings and smart infrastructure, car navigation systems, transport logistics and new digital services for mobile phones.


Geodesists are principally researchers who work with the fundamental coordinate framework that maps our world. This kind of research is usually done at the postgraduate level and geodesists work in universities and federal and state government agencies, such as Geoscience Australia and the NSW Department of Lands, which are charged with the maintenance of the national or state coordinate frameworks.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists

GIS specialists use ongoing developments in digital technology to enhance the ways that information can be used. Integrating these databases in real time with GPS positions or other devices opens up a new world of location-based services – one of the many uses of GIS.

Location-based services

This is about linking social networks, navigation and business directories on mobile phones, to access information in new ways, create new services or just find your friends. Location-based services use powerful applications from Google, Apple, Facebook,Microsoft and others.

GIS is used in mine management to optimise work flows. It is used by councils for asset management and by emergency management authorities to coordinate activities, especially during large disaster events. GIS is used in traffic management and environmental monitoring, and is increasingly being used across the corporate sector, especially in the insurance industry.

Spatial Data Infrastructure

Ultimately web services of geo-data can be linked to provide a spatial data infrastructure (SDI) that could be used to benefit everybody. GIS specialists ensure that these layers inter-link for analysis and planning, to meet the needs of the community and our changing natural and built environments.

What remote sensing professionals do

Surveyors and geospatial engineers use modern satellite, aerial and land-based positioning technology to provide mapping services for flood plain studies, coastal monitoring, natural resource management, agriculture, sustainable development, and many more applications. 

Remote sensing professional link this data with satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing data for a range of environmental monitoring applications, such as salinity and soil moisture monitoring for precision agriculture, or for emergency management of hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis, real-time bushfire or flood monitoring, etc.

Graduates could work for Geoscience Australia, CSIRO, state government lands departments, some local councils or research institutions.