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News & Press: Hoosier Surveyor

Comments, please, on the fate of the Survey Foot

Friday, November 22, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Mike Davis, Hoosier Surveyor editor-in-chief
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When the new year begins in 2023, the U.S. survey foot will be superseded by a unit simply called the foot, a length of measure formerly known as the international foot, according to an Oct. 17 notice in the Federal Register.


The official title for the action is “Deprecation of the United States (U.S.) Survey Foot.” In this case, said ISPLS member Bryan Catlin, PS, “deprecation” means after Dec. 31, 2022, the National Geodetic Survey will stop publishing or providing coordinates or distances in U.S. survey feet — and anything identified as being in feet will mean it is in international feet.

It’s the result of collaborative action taken by the NGS, National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce, and National Institute of Standards and Technology. It is “designed to establish national uniformity in length measurements based on the foot,” according to the Federal Register notice.


As the NGS points out, there have been two definitions of the foot in the U.S. since 1959. The international foot was adopted here at that time, but use of the U.S. survey foot continued, supposedly for a temporary period. Though the difference is very small, with the survey foot being longer by just one-hundredth of a foot per mile, “The result is decades of confusion and chaos in fields where long distances and coordinates are used, such as surveying and mapping,” says an NGS publication.

Geodecist Michael Dennis of the National Geodetic Survey has another deadline in mind, however — Dec. 2, 2019 — and he wants to call attention to it. That’s when an opportunity ends for the public to contribute comments on ways NGS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology can help bring about “an orderly transition to a single definition for the foot.”


“Your input will help in determining the most effective way to implement the change,” Dennis wrote in an email message. “All comments will be welcome, including whether it should simply be called the ‘foot’ after 2022 … dropping the word ‘international’ from the name.”

Dennis also encouraged submitting “horror stories” about results of mixing up the two types of feet. “Each can be just a few sentences that gives important details like the type of project and the impact of the error … including cost, if known,” he said. “All input is valued, regardless of your stance on any part of standardizing the foot definition after 2022.”


This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of the Hoosier Surveyor.

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