Geodesy (/dʒiːˈɒdɪsi/), is the earth science of accurately measuring and understanding the Earth's geometric shape, orientation in space, and gravitational field. The field also incorporates studies of how these properties change over time and equivalent measurements for other planets (known as planetary geodesy). Geodynamical phenomena include crustal motion, tides, and polar motion, which can be studied by designing global and national control networks, applying space and terrestrial techniques, and relying on datums and coordinate systems.
The word "geodesy" comes from the Ancient Greek word γεωδαισία geodaisia (literally, "division of the Earth").
It is primarily concerned with positioning within the temporally varying gravity field. Geodesy in the German-speaking world is divided into "higher geodesy" ("Erdmessung" or "höhere Geodäsie"), which is concerned with measuring the Earth on the global scale, and "practical geodesy" or "engineering geodesy" ("Ingenieurgeodäsie"), which is concerned with measuring specific parts or regions of the Earth, and which includes surveying. Such geodetic operations are also applied to other astronomical bodies in the solar system. It is also the science of measuring and understanding the earth's geometric shape, orientation in space, and gravity field.
To a large extent, the shape of the Earth is the result of its rotation, which causes its equatorial bulge, and the competition of geological processes such as the collision of plates and of volcanism, resisted by the Earth's gravity field. This applies to the solid surface, the liquid surface (dynamic sea surface topography) and the Earth's atmosphere. For this reason, the study of the Earth's gravity field is called physical geodesy.
The geoid is essentially the figure of the Earth abstracted from its topographical features. It is an idealized equilibrium surface of sea water, the mean sea level surface in the absence of currents and air pressure variations, and continued under the continental masses. The geoid, unlike the reference ellipsoid, is irregular and too complicated to serve as the computational surface on which to solve geometrical problems like point positioning. The geometrical separation between the geoid and the reference ellipsoid is called the geoidal undulation. It varies globally between ±110 m, when referred to the GRS 80 ellipsoid.
A reference ellipsoid, customarily chosen to be the same size (volume) as the geoid, is described by its semi-major axis (equatorial radius) a and flattening f. The quantity f = a − b/, where b is the semi-minor axis (polar radius), is a purely geometrical one. The mechanical ellipticity of the Earth (dynamical flattening, symbol J2) can be determined to high precision by observation of satellite orbit perturbations. Its relationship with the geometrical flattening is indirect. The relationship depends on the internal density distribution, or, in simplest terms, the degree of central concentration of mass.
The 1980 Geodetic Reference System (GRS 80) posited a 6,378,137 m semi-major axis and a 1:298.257 flattening. This system was adopted at the XVII General Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). It is essentially the basis for geodetic positioning by the Global Positioning System (GPS) and is thus also in widespread use outside the geodetic community. The numerous systems that countries have used to create maps and charts are becoming obsolete as countries increasingly move to global, geocentric reference systems using the GRS 80 reference ellipsoid.
The geoid is "realizable", meaning it can be consistently located on the Earth by suitable simple measurements from physical objects like a tide gauge. The geoid can therefore be considered a real surface. The reference ellipsoid, however, has many possible instantiations and is not readily realizable, therefore it is an abstract surface. The third primary surface of geodetic interest—the topographic surface of the Earth—is a realizable surface.
The locations of points in three-dimensional space are most conveniently described by three cartesian or rectangular coordinates, X, Y and Z. Since the advent of satellite positioning, such coordinate systems are typically geocentric: the Z-axis is aligned with the Earth's (conventional or instantaneous) rotation axis.
Prior to the era of satellite geodesy, the coordinate systems associated with a geodetic datum attempted to be geocentric, but their origins differed from the geocenter by hundreds of meters, due to regional deviations in the direction of the plumbline (vertical). These regional geodetic data, such as ED 50 (European Datum 1950) or NAD 27 (North American Datum 1927) have ellipsoids associated with them that are regional "best fits" to the geoids within their areas of validity, minimizing the deflections of the vertical over these areas.
It is only because GPS satellites orbit about the geocenter, that this point becomes naturally the origin of a coordinate system defined by satellite geodetic means, as the satellite positions in space are themselves computed in such a system.
Geocentric coordinate systems used in geodesy can be divided naturally into two classes:
The coordinate transformation between these two systems is described to good approximation by (apparent) sidereal time, which takes into account variations in the Earth's axial rotation (length-of-day variations). A more accurate description also takes polar motion into account, a phenomenon closely monitored by geodesists.
Rectangular coordinates in the plane can be used intuitively with respect to one's current location, in which case the x-axis will point to the local north. More formally, such coordinates can be obtained from three-dimensional coordinates using the artifice of a map projection. It is not possible to map the curved surface of the Earth onto a flat map surface without deformation. The compromise most often chosen—called a conformal projection—preserves angles and length ratios, so that small circles are mapped as small circles and small squares as squares.
An example of such a projection is UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator). Within the map plane, we have rectangular coordinates x and y. In this case the north direction used for reference is the map north, not the local north. The difference between the two is called meridian convergence.
It is easy enough to "translate" between polar and rectangular coordinates in the plane: let, as above, direction and distance be α and s respectively, then we have
The reverse transformation is given by:
In geodesy, point or terrain heights are "above sea level", an irregular, physically defined surface. Therefore, a height should ideally not be referred to as a coordinate. It is more like a physical quantity, and though it can be tempting to treat height as the vertical coordinate z, in addition to the horizontal coordinates x and y, and though this actually is a good approximation of physical reality in small areas, it quickly becomes invalid for regional considerations.
Heights come in the following variants:
Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Both orthometric and normal heights are heights in metres above sea level, whereas geopotential numbers are measures of potential energy (unit: m2 s−2) and not metric. Orthometric and normal heights differ in the precise way in which mean sea level is conceptually continued under the continental masses. The reference surface for orthometric heights is the geoid, an equipotential surface approximating mean sea level.
None of these heights is in any way related to geodetic or ellipsoidial heights, which express the height of a point above the reference ellipsoid. Satellite positioning receivers typically provide ellipsoidal heights, unless they are fitted with special conversion software based on a model of the geoid.
Because geodetic point coordinates (and heights) are always obtained in a system that has been constructed itself using real observations, geodesists introduce the concept of a "geodetic datum": a physical realization of a coordinate system used for describing point locations. The realization is the result of choosing conventional coordinate values for one or more datum points.
In the case of height data, it suffices to choose one datum point: the reference benchmark, typically a tide gauge at the shore. Thus we have vertical data like the NAP (Normaal Amsterdams Peil), the North American Vertical Datum 1988 (NAVD 88), the Kronstadt datum, the Trieste datum, and so on.
In case of plane or spatial coordinates, we typically need several datum points. A regional, ellipsoidal datum like ED 50 can be fixed by prescribing the undulation of the geoid and the deflection of the vertical in one datum point, in this case the Helmert Tower in Potsdam. However, an overdetermined ensemble of datum points can also be used.
Changing the coordinates of a point set referring to one datum, so to make them refer to another datum, is called a datum transformation. In the case of vertical data, this consists of simply adding a constant shift to all height values. In the case of plane or spatial coordinates, datum transformation takes the form of a similarity or Helmert transformation, consisting of a rotation and scaling operation in addition to a simple translation. In the plane, a Helmert transformation has four parameters; in space, seven.
In the abstract, a coordinate system as used in mathematics and geodesy is called a "coordinate system" in ISO terminology, whereas the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) uses the term "reference system". When these coordinates are realized by choosing datum points and fixing a geodetic datum, ISO says "coordinate reference system", while IERS says "reference frame". The ISO term for a datum transformation again is a "coordinate transformation".
Point positioning is the determination of the coordinates of a point on land, at sea, or in space with respect to a coordinate system. Point position is solved by computation from measurements linking the known positions of terrestrial or extraterrestrial points with the unknown terrestrial position. This may involve transformations between or among astronomical and terrestrial coordinate systems. The known points used for point positioning can be triangulation points of a higher-order network or GPS satellites.
Traditionally, a hierarchy of networks has been built to allow point positioning within a country. Highest in the hierarchy were triangulation networks. These were densified into networks of traverses (polygons), into which local mapping surveying measurements, usually with measuring tape, corner prism, and the familiar red and white poles, are tied.
Nowadays all but special measurements (e.g., underground or high-precision engineering measurements) are performed with GPS. The higher-order networks are measured with static GPS, using differential measurement to determine vectors between terrestrial points. These vectors are then adjusted in traditional network fashion. A global polyhedron of permanently operating GPS stations under the auspices of the IERS is used to define a single global, geocentric reference frame which serves as the "zero order" global reference to which national measurements are attached.
One purpose of point positioning is the provision of known points for mapping measurements, also known as (horizontal and vertical) control. In every country, thousands of such known points exist and are normally documented by national mapping agencies. Surveyors involved in real estate and insurance will use these to tie their local measurements.
In geometric geodesy, two standard problems exist—the first (direct or forward) and the second (inverse or reverse).
In plane geometry (valid for small areas on the Earth's surface), the solutions to both problems reduce to simple trigonometry. On a sphere, however, the solution is significantly more complex, because in the inverse problem the azimuths will differ between the two end points of the connecting great circle, arc.
On the ellipsoid of revolution, geodesics may be written in terms of elliptic integrals, which are usually evaluated in terms of a series expansion—see, for example, Vincenty's formulae. In the general case, the solution is called the geodesic for the surface considered. The differential equations for the geodesic can be solved numerically.
Here we define some basic observational concepts, like angles and coordinates, defined in geodesy (and astronomy as well), mostly from the viewpoint of the local observer.
The level is used for determining height differences and height reference systems, commonly referred to mean sea level. The traditional spirit level produces these practically most useful heights above sea level directly; the more economical use of GPS instruments for height determination requires precise knowledge of the figure of the geoid, as GPS only gives heights above the GRS80 reference ellipsoid. As geoid knowledge accumulates, one may expect use of GPS heighting to spread.
The theodolite is used to measure horizontal and vertical angles to target points. These angles are referred to the local vertical. The tacheometer additionally determines, electronically or electro-optically, the distance to target, and is highly automated to even robotic in its operations. The method of free station position is widely used.
For local detail surveys, tacheometers are commonly employed although the old-fashioned rectangular technique using angle prism and steel tape is still an inexpensive alternative. Real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS techniques are used as well. Data collected are tagged and recorded digitally for entry into a Geographic Information System (GIS) database.
Geodetic GPS receivers produce directly three-dimensional coordinates in a geocentric coordinate frame. Such a frame is, e.g., WGS84, or the frames that are regularly produced and published by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS).
GPS receivers have almost completely replaced terrestrial instruments for large-scale base network surveys. For planet-wide geodetic surveys, previously impossible, we can still mention satellite laser ranging (SLR) and lunar laser ranging (LLR) and very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) techniques. All these techniques also serve to monitor irregularities in the Earth's rotation as well as plate tectonic motions.
Gravity is measured using gravimeters, of which there are two kinds. First, "absolute gravimeters" are based on measuring the acceleration of free fall (e.g., of a reflecting prism in a vacuum tube). They are used to establish the vertical geospatial control and can be used in the field. Second, "relative gravimeters" are spring-based and are more common. They are used in gravity surveys over large areas for establishing the figure of the geoid over these areas. The most accurate relative gravimeters are called "superconducting" gravimeters, which are sensitive to one-thousandth of one-billionth of Earth surface gravity. Twenty-some superconducting gravimeters are used worldwide for studying Earth's tides, rotation, interior, and ocean and atmospheric loading, as well as for verifying the Newtonian constant of gravitation.
Geographical latitude and longitude are stated in the units degree, minute of arc, and second of arc. They are angles, not metric measures, and describe the direction of the local normal to the reference ellipsoid of revolution. This is approximately the same as the direction of the plumbline, i.e., local gravity, which is also the normal to the geoid surface. For this reason, astronomical position determination – measuring the direction of the plumbline by astronomical means – works fairly well provided an ellipsoidal model of the figure of the Earth is used.
One geographical mile, defined as one minute of arc on the equator, equals 1,855.32571922 m. One nautical mile is one minute of astronomical latitude. The radius of curvature of the ellipsoid varies with latitude, being the longest at the pole and the shortest at the equator as is the nautical mile.
A metre was originally defined as the 10-millionth part of the length from equator to North Pole along the meridian through Paris (the target was not quite reached in actual implementation, so that is off by 200 ppm in the current definitions). This means that one kilometre is roughly equal to (1/40,000) * 360 * 60 meridional minutes of arc, which equals 0.54 nautical mile, though this is not exact because the two units are defined on different bases (the international nautical mile is defined as exactly 1,852 m, corresponding to a rounding of 1,000/0.54 m to four digits).
In geodesy, temporal change can be studied by a variety of techniques. Points on the Earth's surface change their location due to a variety of mechanisms:
The science of studying deformations and motions of the Earth's crust and the solid Earth as a whole is called geodynamics. Often, study of the Earth's irregular rotation is also included in its definition.
Techniques for studying geodynamic phenomena on the global scale include:
The elevation of a geographic location is its height above or below a fixed reference point, most commonly a reference geoid, a mathematical model of the Earth's sea level as an equipotential gravitational surface (see Geodetic datum § Vertical datum).
The term elevation is mainly used when referring to points on the Earth's surface, while altitude or geopotential height is used for points above the surface, such as an aircraft in flight or a spacecraft in orbit, and depth is used for points below the surface.
Elevation is not to be confused with the distance from the center of the Earth. Due to the equatorial bulge, the summits of Mount Everest and Chimborazo have, respectively, the largest elevation and the largest geocentric distance.Equator
An equator of a rotating spheroid (such as a planet) is its zeroth circle of latitude (parallel). It is the imaginary line on the spheroid's surface, equidistant from its poles, dividing it into northern and southern hemispheres. In other words, it is the intersection of the spheroid's surface with the plane perpendicular to its axis of rotation and midway between its geographical poles.
On Earth, the Equator is about 40,075 km (24,901 mi) long, of which 78.8% lies across water and 21.3% over land. Indonesia is the country straddling the greatest length of the equatorial line across both land and sea.Faculty of Geodesy, University of Zagreb
The Faculty of Geodesy at the University of Zagreb (Croatian: Geodetski fakultet Sveučilišta u Zagrebu) is the only Croatian institution providing high education in Geomatics engineering and the largest faculty in this domain in southeastern Europe.Figure of the Earth
The figure of the Earth is the size and shape of the Earth in geodesy. Its specific meaning depends on the way it is used and the precision with which the Earth's size and shape is to be defined. While the sphere is a close approximation of the true figure of the Earth and satisfactory for many purposes, geodesists have developed several models that more closely approximate the shape of the Earth so that coordinate systems can serve the precise needs of navigation, surveying, cadastre, land use, and various other concerns.Geo-IK-2
The Geo-IK-2 is a Russian series of new generation military geodesy satellites replacing the Soviet Union's Geo-IK and Sfera constellations. They are intended to be used to create high precision three-dimensional maps of the Earth's surface, and to monitor plate tectonics. The satellites are produced by ISS Reshetnev, and have a mass of around 1,400 kilograms (3,100 lb). They operate in a circular orbit at an altitude of around 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) above the Earth's surface.
Not to be confused with the Napryazhenie / 14F150 / Nivelir military geodesy satellites.Geodetic datum
A geodetic datum or geodetic system (also: geodetic reference datum or geodetic reference system) is a coordinate system, and a set of reference points, used to locate places on the Earth (or similar objects). An approximate definition of sea level is the datum WGS 84, an ellipsoid, whereas a more accurate definition is Earth Gravitational Model 2008 (EGM2008), using at least 2,159 spherical harmonics. Other datums are defined for other areas or at other times; ED50 was defined in 1950 over Europe and differs from WGS 84 by a few hundred meters depending on where in Europe you look.
Mars has no oceans and so no sea level, but at least two martian datums have been used to locate places there.
Datums are used in geodesy, navigation, and surveying by cartographers and satellite navigation systems to translate positions indicated on maps (paper or digital) to their real position on Earth. Each starts with an ellipsoid (stretched sphere), and then defines latitude, longitude and altitude coordinates. One or more locations on the Earth's surface are chosen as anchor "base-points".
The difference in co-ordinates between datums is commonly referred to as datum shift. The datum shift between two particular datums can vary from one place to another within one country or region, and can be anything from zero to hundreds of meters (or several kilometers for some remote islands). The North Pole, South Pole and Equator will be in different positions on different datums, so True North will be slightly different. Different datums use different interpolations for the precise shape and size of the Earth (reference ellipsoids).
Because the Earth is an imperfect ellipsoid, localised datums can give a more accurate representation of the area of coverage than WGS 84. OSGB36, for example, is a better approximation to the geoid covering the British Isles than the global WGS 84 ellipsoid. However, as the benefits of a global system outweigh the greater accuracy, the global WGS 84 datum is becoming increasingly adopted.Horizontal datums are used for describing a point on the Earth's surface, in latitude and longitude or another coordinate system. Vertical datums measure elevations or depths.Geographical pole
A geographical pole is either of the two points on a rotating body (planet, dwarf planet, natural satellite, sphere...etc) where its axis of rotation intersects its surface. As with Earth's North and South Poles, they are usually called that body's "north pole" and "south pole", one lying 90 degrees in one direction from the body's equator and the other lying 90 degrees in the opposite direction from the equator.
Every planet has geographical poles. If, like the Earth, a body generates a magnetic field, it will also possess magnetic poles.Perturbations in a body's rotation mean that geographical poles wander slightly on its surface. The Earth's North and South Poles, for example, move by a few metres over periods of a few years. As cartography requires exact and unchanging coordinates, the averaged locations of geographical poles are taken as fixed cartographic poles and become the points where the body's great circles of longitude intersect.Geoid
The geoid () is the shape that the ocean surface would take under the influence of the gravity and rotation of Earth alone, if other influences such as winds and tides were absent. This surface is extended through the continents (such as with very narrow hypothetical canals). According to Gauss, who first described it, it is the "mathematical figure of the Earth", a smooth but irregular surface whose shape results from the uneven distribution of mass within and on the surface of Earth. It can be known only through extensive gravitational measurements and calculations. Despite being an important concept for almost 200 years in the history of geodesy and geophysics, it has been defined to high precision only since advances in satellite geodesy in the late 20th century.
All points on a geoid surface have the same effective potential (the sum of gravitational potential energy and centrifugal potential energy). The force of gravity acts everywhere perpendicular to the geoid, meaning that plumb lines point perpendicular and water levels parallel to the geoid if only gravity and rotational acceleration were at work. The surface of the geoid is higher than the reference ellipsoid wherever there is a positive gravity anomaly (mass excess) and lower than the reference ellipsoid wherever there is a negative gravity anomaly (mass deficit).History of geodesy
Geodesy (/dʒiːˈɒdɨsi/), also named geodetics, is the scientific discipline that deals with the measurement and representation of the Earth. The history of geodesy began in pre-scientific antiquity and blossomed during the Age of Enlightenment.
Early ideas about the figure of the Earth held the Earth to be flat (see flat Earth), and the heavens a physical dome spanning over it. Two early arguments for a spherical Earth were that lunar eclipses were seen as circular shadows which could only be caused by a spherical Earth, and that Polaris is seen lower in the sky as one travels South.International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
The International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG; French: Union géodésique et géophysique internationale, UGGI) is an international non-governmental organisation dedicated to the scientific study of the Earth and its space environment using geophysical and geodetic techniques.
The IUGG was established in Brussels, Belgium in 1919. Some areas within its scope are environmental preservation, reduction of the effects of natural hazards, and mineral resources.Irish grid reference system
The Irish grid reference system is a system of geographic grid references used for paper mapping in Ireland (both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland). The Irish grid partially overlaps the British grid, and uses a similar co-ordinate system but with a meridian more suited to its westerly location.Latitude
In geography, latitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the north–south position of a point on the Earth's surface. Latitude is an angle (defined below) which ranges from 0° at the Equator to 90° (North or South) at the poles. Lines of constant latitude, or parallels, run east–west as circles parallel to the equator. Latitude is used together with longitude to specify the precise location of features on the surface of the Earth. On its own, the term latitude should be taken to be the geodetic latitude as defined below. Briefly, geodetic latitude at a point is the angle formed by the vector perpendicular (or normal) to the ellipsoidal surface from that point, and the equatorial plane. Also defined are six auxiliary latitudes which are used in special applications.Metres above sea level
Redirected here: feet above sea levelMetres above mean sea level (MAMSL) or simply metres above sea level (MASL or m a.s.l.) is a standard metric measurement in metres of vertical distance (height, elevation or altitude) of a location in reference to a historic mean sea level taken as a vertical datum. Mean sea levels are affected by climate change and other factors and change over time. For this and other reasons, recorded measurements of elevation above sea level might differ from the actual elevation of a given location over sea level at a given moment.Normalnull
Normalnull ("standard zero") or Normal-Null (short N. N. or NN ) is an outdated official vertical datum used in Germany. Elevations using this reference system were to be marked "Meter über Normal-Null" (“meters above standard zero”). Normalnull has been replaced by Normalhöhennull (short NHN).Planetary science
Planetary science or, more rarely, planetology, is the scientific study of planets (including Earth), moons, and planetary systems (in particular those of the Solar System) and the processes that form them. It studies objects ranging in size from micrometeoroids to gas giants, aiming to determine their composition, dynamics, formation, interrelations and history. It is a strongly interdisciplinary field, originally growing from astronomy and earth science, but which now incorporates many disciplines, including planetary geology (together with geochemistry and geophysics), cosmochemistry, atmospheric science, oceanography, hydrology, theoretical planetary science, glaciology, and exoplanetology. Allied disciplines include space physics, when concerned with the effects of the Sun on the bodies of the Solar System, and astrobiology.
There are interrelated observational and theoretical branches of planetary science. Observational research can involve a combination of space exploration, predominantly with robotic spacecraft missions using remote sensing, and comparative, experimental work in Earth-based laboratories. The theoretical component involves considerable computer simulation and mathematical modelling.
Planetary scientists are generally located in the astronomy and physics or Earth sciences departments of universities or research centres, though there are several purely planetary science institutes worldwide. There are several major conferences each year, and a wide range of peer-reviewed journals. In the case of some exclusive planetary scientists, many of whom are in relation to the study of dark matter, they will seek a private research centre and often initiate partnership research tasks.Satellite geodesy
Satellite geodesy is geodesy by means of artificial satellites — the measurement of the form and dimensions of Earth, the location of objects on its surface and the figure of the Earth's gravity field by means of artificial satellite techniques. It belongs to the broader field of space geodesy. Traditional astronomical geodesy is not commonly considered a part of satellite geodesy, although there is considerable overlap between the techniques.The main goals of satellite geodesy are:
Determination of the figure of the Earth, positioning, and navigation (geometric satellite geodesy)
Determination of geoid, Earth's gravity field and its temporal variations (dynamical satellite geodesy)
Measurement of geodynamical phenomena, such as crustal dynamics and polar motionSatellite geodetic data and methods can be applied to diverse fields such as navigation, hydrography, oceanography and geophysics. Satellite geodesy relies heavily on orbital mechanics.Summit
A summit is a point on a surface that is higher in elevation than all points immediately adjacent to it. Mathematically, a summit is a local maximum in elevation. The topographic terms acme, apex, peak (mountain peak), and zenith are synonymous.Very-long-baseline interferometry
Very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) is a type of astronomical interferometry used in radio astronomy. In VLBI a signal from an astronomical radio source, such as a quasar, is collected at multiple radio telescopes on Earth. The distance between the radio telescopes is then calculated using the time difference between the arrivals of the radio signal at different telescopes. This allows observations of an object that are made simultaneously by many radio telescopes to be combined, emulating a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the telescopes.
Data received at each antenna in the array include arrival times from a local atomic clock, such as a hydrogen maser. At a later time, the data are correlated with data from other antennas that recorded the same radio signal, to produce the resulting image. The resolution achievable using interferometry is proportional to the observing frequency. The VLBI technique enables the distance between telescopes to be much greater than that possible with conventional interferometry, which requires antennas to be physically connected by coaxial cable, waveguide, optical fiber, or other type of transmission line. The greater telescope separations are possible in VLBI due to the development of the closure phase imaging technique by Roger Jennison in the 1950s, allowing VLBI to produce images with superior resolution.
VLBI is best known for imaging distant cosmic radio sources, spacecraft tracking, and for applications in astrometry. However, since the VLBI technique measures the time differences between the arrival of radio waves at separate antennas, it can also be used "in reverse" to perform earth rotation studies, map movements of tectonic plates very precisely (within millimetres), and perform other types of geodesy. Using VLBI in this manner requires large numbers of time difference measurements from distant sources (such as quasars) observed with a global network of antennas over a period of time.World Geodetic System
The World Geodetic System (WGS) is a standard for use in cartography, geodesy, and satellite navigation including GPS. It comprises a standard coordinate system for the Earth, a standard spheroidal reference surface (the datum or reference ellipsoid) for raw altitude data, and a gravitational equipotential surface (the geoid) that defines the nominal sea level.
The latest revision is WGS 84 (also known as WGS 1984, EPSG:4326), established in 1984 and last revised in 2004. Earlier schemes included WGS 72, WGS 66, and WGS 60. WGS 84 is the reference coordinate system used by the Global Positioning System.