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Glossary of Civil Surveying



A backsight is a reading taken on a position of known coordinate(s). Since a survey progresses from a point of known position to points of unknown position, a backsight is a reading looking "backward" along the line of progress. The first reading of almost any survey job should be a backsight onto a fixed point of reference, usually a benchmark of some sort.

Base Mapping

Usually associated with topographic mapping covering country or region at different scales.

Basic Land and Property Unit

The physical extent of a contiguous area of land under uniform property rights.

Basic Scale

The scale at which the survey is undertaken. For Ordnance Survey mapping, three scales (1:1250 - urban, 1:2500 - urban and rural, 1:10 000 - mountain and moorland) are used.


A General cover category consisting of nonvegetated lands, including alkaline barrens, unreclaimed mined land, and other barren areas incapable of supporting vegetation. Barren areas are nonvegetated either because the substrate will not support plant growth or because the area is subject to frequent disturbance (e.g., scouring, flooding) that prevents plant growth.

Barren land

A Land cover/use category used to classify lands with limited capacity to support life and having less than 5 percent vegetative cover. Vegetation, if present, is widely spaced. Typically, the surface of barren land is sand, rock, exposed subsoil, or salt-affected soils. Subcategories include salt flats; sand dunes; mud flats; beaches; bare exposed rock; quarries, strip mines, gravel pits, and borrow pits; riverwash; oil wasteland; mixed barren lands; and other barren land.


A surveyed line usually several kilometres long. It is established with the utmost precision available at the time. Surveys refer to the baseline for coordination and correlation. The baseline accumulates distances throughout a triangulation network, extending to other baselines, providing further integrated control

Beam compass

A drafting instrument used for drawing circles with a long radius. The point and scribe are separate units, mounted to slide and clamp on a long beam.


An angle measured clockwise from a north line of 0° to a given surveyed line.


Land underlying a water body or roadway.


Bureau of Land Management of U.S. Department of the Interior; formerly the General Land Office (GLO).

Booking Values

Booking simply means "entering the field data in the field book". A format appropriate for the type of survey should be followed to make interpretation and retrieval easy.


The limit of a pre-defined and established area whose limit is determined by one or more lines e.g. County area boundary, reservoir boundary. In other words, it is a border line or exterior of a described parcel.

Bounded by

Informative term of location or limitation


A breakpoint is a point where a change in some parameter of interest occurs. In surveying, breakpoints are usually associated with changes in slope. A profile survey which records only breakpoint stations can have equivalent (or even better) information to a survey which records a regularly spaced set of stations, but with fewer entries (and less time in the field).


An application which gives the user the ability to view a graphic representation of mapping data. The application would provide tools (e.g. pan, zoom) to aid this viewing. It provides a visual representation of the mapping data, which may displayed at a variety of resolutions dependent on the size of area being displayed.


A zone of user-specified distance around a point, line or area. The generation of buffers to establish the proximity of features is one of the most common forms of GIS analysis. For example, it may be used to find all areas of industry less than 5km from a reservoir.


A physical walled structure, connected to foundations, which has or will have a roof i.e. this definition includes buildings surveyed at the foundation stage.

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