Topographic Surveys: Discover New Elevations

topographic survey

A topographic map is the best way of showing hills and undulations on paper. You’ve no doubt seen one before. It’s a map with lines that demonstrate the contours of the land. A mountainous area would have many complex lines to show all its various elevations. A flat area would have few lines, as its land is mostly uniform in elevation.

Topography isn’t just of interest to geology majors and battlefield historians. Contractors, architects and other professionals must also know the contours of a parcel of land if they intend to do anything productive with it. That’s why Compass Consultants offers topographic surveys as a standalone service and as part of our other, more detailed surveys.

What Is a Topographic Survey?

A topographic survey is created using specialized tools and equipment that measure the elevation at any point on or below land and even underwater. Sea level is typically used as the reference surface; all points on the survey are above, below or equal to it.

Once sufficient topographic data have been collected, the surveying team creates a comprehensive map of the area: one that reveals all the contours of the subject area, and which also includes the exact locations of both natural and man-made features.

When Should You Get a Topographic Survey?

If you’re commencing a construction or land development project of any size, then it’s crucial to understand how the land’s elevation will affect its overall usability. A topographic survey can help you avoid building where you shouldn’t, as well as indicate where drainage and leveling are required. This is why an ALTA land title survey (i.e. the most comprehensive type of survey available) includes a Table A Item, Item 5; Vertical relief with the source of information (e.g., ground survey, aerial map), contour interval, datum, with originating benchmark, when appropriate, as an option.

While it’s always advisable to get a topographic survey before breaking ground, it is especially important to commission one as part of preparation for any of the following projects.

  • Acquisition of Right of Way – Is your department acquiring land for the purpose of transportation improvement? Whether the acquisition is temporary or permanent, you’ll need to know if the land’s physical features will suit your project before making such a large investment.
  • Runoff Management System Installation – Are you designing and installing a system to safely channel away runoff? Understanding the directions and rates at which precipitation, snowmelt and irrigation flow – and where they will accumulate – is paramount to developing an effective runoff management strategy. Whether your system includes grading, drainage pipes, or both, it cannot be successful unless it is built around a topographic survey.
  • Large Projects – We would never advise doing it, but plenty of people have built houses on land they haven’t surveyed. (The pioneers did not keep surveying tripods in their covered wagons, after all.) But if you’re planning a large construction project – be it infrastructure, industrial, or commercial – you need to know how water will move around the parcel, and whether you need to change its slopes to prevent water from pooling where it shouldn’t. Ensuring a large building’s structural integrity is simply impossible without an accurate topographic survey.
  • Permitting – Some jurisdictions require builders to prove that land is fit for development before commencing work on it. Others may require developers to create surveys for conservation purposes. In either case, a topographic survey is usually needed to satisfy the governing bureaucracy’s approval criteria.

If you are planning construction or a land development project in Minnesota, then you have already found the best solution to all your surveying needs. Contact Compass Consultants today to schedule service at the site of your upcoming project!