1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Geodesy

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GEODESY (from the Gr. γῆ, the earth, and δαίειν, to divide), the science of surveying (q.v.) extended to large tracts of country, having in view not only the production of a system of maps of very great accuracy, but the determination of the curvature of the surface of the earth, and eventually of the figure and dimensions of the earth. This last, indeed, may be the sole object in view, as was the case in the operations conducted in Peru and in Lapland by the celebrated French astronomers P. Bouguer, C. M. de la Condamine, P. L. M. de Maupertuis, A. C. Clairault and others; and the measurement of the meridian arc of France by P. F. A. Méchain and J. B. J. Delambre had for its end the determination of the true length of the “metre” which was to be the legal standard of length of France (see Earth, Figure of the).

The basis of every extensive survey is an accurate triangulation, and the operations of geodesy consist in the measurement, by theodolites, of the angles of the triangles; the measurement of one or more sides of these triangles on the ground; the determination by astronomical observations of the azimuth of the whole network of triangles; the determination of the actual position of the same on the surface of the earth by observations, first for latitude at some of the stations, and secondly for longitude; the determination of altitude for all stations.

For the computation, the points of the actual surface of the earth are imagined as projected along their plumb lines on the mathematical figure, which is given by the stationary sea-level, and the extension of the sea through the continents by a system of imaginary canals. For many purposes the mathematical surface is assumed to be a plane; in other cases a sphere of radius 6371 kilometres (20,900,000 ft.). In the case of extensive operations the surface must be considered as a compressed ellipsoid of rotation, whose minor axis coincides with the earth’s axis, and whose compression, flattening, or ellipticity is about 1/298.

Measurement of Base Lines.

To determine by actual measurement on the ground the length of a side of one of the triangles (“base line”), wherefrom to infer the lengths of all the other sides in the triangulation, is not the least difficult operation of a trigonometrical survey. When the problem is stated thus—To determine the number of times that a certain standard or unit of length is contained between two finely marked points on the surface of the earth at a distance of some miles asunder, so that the error of the result may be pronounced to lie between certain very narrow limits,—then the question demands very serious consideration. The representation of the unit of length by means of the distance between two fine lines on the surface of a bar of metal at a certain temperature is never itself free from uncertainty and probable error, owing to the difficulty of knowing at any moment the precise temperature of the bar; and the transference of this unit, or a multiple of it, to a measuring bar will be affected not only with errors of observation, but with errors arising from uncertainty of temperature of both bars. If the measuring bar be not self-compensating for temperature, its expansion must be determined by very careful experiments. The thermometers required for this purpose must be very carefully studied, and their errors of division and index error determined.

In order to avoid the difficulty in exactly determining the temperature of a bar by the mercury thermometer, F. W. Bessel introduced in 1834 near Königsberg a compound bar which constituted a metallic thermometer.[1] A zinc bar is laid on an iron bar two toises long, both bars being perfectly planed and in free contact, the zinc bar being slightly shorter and the two bars rigidly united at one end. As the temperature varies, the difference of the lengths of the bars, as perceived by the other end, also varies, and affords a quantitative correction for temperature variations, which is applied to reduce the length to standard temperature. During the measurement of the base line the bars were not allowed to come into contact, the interval being measured by the insertion of glass wedges. The results of the comparisons of four measuring rods with one another and with the standards were elaborately computed by the method of least-squares. The probable error of the measured length of 935 toises (about 6000 ft.) has been estimated as 1/863500 or 1.2 μ (μ denoting a millionth). With this apparatus fourteen base lines were measured in Prussia and some neighbouring states; in these cases a somewhat higher degree of accuracy was obtained.

The principal triangulation of Great Britain and Ireland has seven base lines: five have been measured by steel chains, and two, more exactly, by the compensation bars of General T. F. Colby, an apparatus introduced in 1827–1828 at Lough Foyle in Ireland. Ten base lines were measured in India in 1831–1869 by the same apparatus. This is a system of six compound-bars self-correcting for temperature. The bars may be thus described: Two bars, one of brass and the other of iron, are laid in parallelism side by side, firmly united at their centres, from which they may freely expand or contract; at the standard temperature they are of the same length. Let AB be one bar, A′B′ the other; draw lines through the corresponding extremities AA′ (to P) and BB′ (to Q), and make A′P = B′Q, AA′ being equal to BB′. If the ratio A′P/AP equals the ratio of the coefficients of expansion of the bars A′B′ and AB, then, obviously, the distance PQ is constant (or nearly so). In the actual instrument P and Q are finely engraved dots 10 ft. apart. In practice the bars, when aligned, are not in contact, an interval of 6 in. being allowed between each bar and its neighbour. This distance is accurately measured by an ingenious micrometrical arrangement constructed on exactly the same principle as the bars themselves.

The last base line measured in India had a length of 8913 ft. In consequence of some suspicion as to the accuracy of the compensation apparatus, the measurement was repeated four times, the operations being conducted so as to determine the actual values of the probable errors of the apparatus. The direction of the line (which is at Cape Comorin) is north and south. In two of the measurements the brass component was to the west, in the others to the east; the differences between the individual measurements and the mean of the four were +0.0017, −0.0049, −0.0015, +0.0045 ft. These differences are very small; an elaborate investigation of all sources of error shows that the probable error of a base line in India is on the average ±2.8 μ. These compensation bars were also used by Sir Thomas Maclear in the measurement of the base line in his extension of Lacaille’s arc at the Cape. The account of this operation will be found in a volume entitled Verification and Extension of Lacaille’s Arc of Meridian at the Cape of Good Hope, by Sir Thomas Maclear, published in 1866. A rediscussion has been given by Sir David Gill in his Report on the Geodetic Survey of South Africa, &c., 1896.

A very simple base apparatus was employed by W. Struve in his triangulations in Russia from 1817 to 1855. This consisted of four wrought-iron bars, each two toises (rather more than 13 ft.) long; one end of each bar is terminated in a small steel cylinder presenting a slightly convex surface for contact, the other end carries a contact lever rigidly connected with the bar. The shorter arm of the lever terminates below in a polished hemisphere, the upper and longer arm traversing a vertical divided arc. In measuring, the plane end of one bar is brought into contact with the short arm of the contact lever (pushed forward by a weak spring) of the next bar. Each bar has two thermometers, and a level for determining the inclination of the bar in measuring. The manner of transferring the end of a bar to the ground is simply this: under the end of the bar a stake is driven very firmly into the ground, carrying on its upper surface a disk, capable of movement in the direction of the measured line by means of slow-motion screws. A fine mark on this disk is brought vertically under the end of the bar by means of a theodolite which is planted at a distance of 25 ft. from the stake in a direction perpendicular to the base. Struve investigated for each base the probable errors of the measurement arising from each of these seven causes: Alignment, inclination, comparisons with standards, readings of index, personal errors, uncertainties of temperature, and the probable errors of adopted rates of expansion. He found that ±0.8 μ was the mean of the probable errors of the seven bases measured by him. The Austro-Hungarian apparatus is similar; the distance of the rods is measured by a slider, which rests on one of the ends of each rod. Twenty-two base lines were measured in 1840–1899.

General Carlos Ibañez employed in 1858–1879, for the measurement of nine base lines in Spain, two apparatus similar to the apparatus previously employed by Porro in Italy; one is complicated, the other simplified. The first, an apparatus of the brothers Brunner of Paris, was a thermometric combination of two bars, one of platinum and one of brass, in length 4 metres, furnished with three levels and four thermometers. Suppose A, B, C three micrometer microscopes very firmly supported at intervals of 4 metres with their axes vertical, and aligned in the plane of the base line by means of a transit instrument, their micrometer screws being in the line of measurement. The measuring bar is brought under say A and B, and those micrometers read; the bar is then shifted and brought under B and C. By repetition of this process, the reading of a micrometer indicating the end of each position of the bar, the measurement is made.

Quite similar apparatus (among others) has been employed by the French and Germans. Since, however, it only permitted a distance of about 300 m. to be measured daily, Ibañez introduced a simplification; the measuring rod being made simply of steel, and provided with inlaid mercury thermometers. This apparatus was used in Switzerland for the measurement of three base lines. The accuracy is shown by the estimated probable errors: ±0.2 μ to ±0.8 μ. The distance measured daily amounts at least to 800 m.

A greater daily distance can be measured with the same accuracy by means of Bessel’s apparatus; this permits the ready measurement of 2000 m. daily. For this, however, it is important to notice that a large staff and favourable ground are necessary. An important improvement was introduced by Edward Jäderin of Stockholm, who measures with stretched wires of about 24 metres long; these wires are about 1.65 mm. in diameter, and when in use are stretched by an accurate spring balance with a tension of 10 kg.[2] The nature of the ground has a very trifling effect on this method. The difficulty of temperature determinations is removed by employing wires made of invar, an alloy of steel (64%) and nickel (36%) which has practically no linear expansion for small thermal changes at ordinary temperatures; this alloy was discovered in 1896 by Benôit and Guillaume of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures at Breteuil. Apparently the future of base-line measurements rests with the invar wires of the Jäderin apparatus; next comes Porro’s apparatus with invar bars 4 to 5 metres long.

Results have been obtained in the United States, of great importance in view of their accuracy, rapidity of determination and economy. For the measurement of the arc of meridian in longitude 98° E., in 1900, nine base lines of a total length of 69.2 km. were measured in six months. The total cost of one base was $1231. At the beginning and at the end of the field-season a distance of exactly 100 m. was measured with R. S. Woodward’s “5-m. ice-bar” (invented in 1891); by means of the remeasurement of this length the standardization of the apparatus was done under the same conditions as existed in the case of the base measurements. For the measurements there were employed two steel tapes of 100 m. long, provided with supports at distances of 25 m., two of 50 m., and the duplex apparatus of Eimbeck, consisting of four 5-m. rods. Each base was divided into sections of about 1000 m.; one of these, the “test kilometre,” was measured with all the five apparatus, the others only with two apparatus, mostly tapes. The probable error was about ±0.8 μ, and the day’s work a distance of about 2000 m. Each of the four rods of the duplex apparatus consists of two bars of brass and steel. Mercury thermometers are inserted in both bars; these serve for the measurement of the length of the base lines by each of the bars, as they are brought into their consecutive positions, the contact being made by an elastic-sliding contact. The length of the base lines may be calculated for each bar only, and also by the supposition that both bars have the same temperature. The apparatus thus affords three sets of results, which mutually control themselves, and the contact adjustments permit rapid work. The same device has been applied to the older bimetallic-compensating apparatus of Bache-Würdemann (six bases, 1847–1857) and of Schott. There was also employed a single rod bimetallic apparatus on F. Porro’s principle, constructed by the brothers Repsold for some base lines. Excellent results have been more recently obtained with invar tapes.

The following results show the lengths of the same German base lines as measured by different apparatus:

Base at Berlin 1864 Apparatus of Bessel 2336·3920
   ”    ” 1880 Brunner·3924
Base at Strehlen 1854 Bessel 2762·5824
   ”    ” 1879 Brunner ·5852
Old base at Bonn 1847 Bessel 2133·9095
   ”    ” 1892 ·9097
New base at Bonn 1892 2512·9612
   ”    ” 1892 Brunner ·9696

It is necessary that the altitude above the level of the sea of every part of a base line be ascertained by spirit levelling, in order that the measured length may be reduced to what it would have been had the measurement been made on the surface of the sea, produced in imagination. Thus if l be the length of a measuring bar, h its height at any given position in the measurement, r the radius of the earth, then the length radially projected on to the level of the sea is l(1 − h/r). In the Salisbury Plain base line the reduction to the level of the sea is −0.6294 ft.

Fig. 1.

The total number of base lines measured in Europe up to the present time is about one hundred and ten, nineteen of which do not exceed in length 2500 metres, or about 11/2 miles, and three—one in France, the others in Bavaria—exceed 19,000 metres. The question has been frequently discussed whether or not the advantage of a long base is sufficiently great to warrant the expenditure of time that it requires, or whether as much precision is not obtainable in the end by careful triangulation from a short base. But the answer cannot be given generally; it must depend on the circumstances of each particular case. With Jäderin’s apparatus, provided with invar wires, bases of 20 to 30 km. long are obtained without difficulty.

In working away from a base line ab, stations c, d, e, f are carefully selected so as to obtain from well-shaped triangles gradually increasing sides. Before, however, finally leaving the base line, it is usual to verify it by triangulation thus: during the measurement two or more points, as p, q (fig. 1), are marked in the base in positions such that the lengths of the different segments of the line are known; then, taking suitable external stations, as h, k, the angles of the triangles bhp, phq, hqk, kqa are measured. From these angles can be computed the ratios of the segments, which must agree, if all operations are correctly performed, with the ratios resulting from the measures. Leaving the base line, the sides increase up to 10, 30 or 50 miles occasionally, but seldom reaching 100 miles. The triangulation points may either be natural objects presenting themselves in suitable positions, such as church towers; or they may be objects specially constructed in stone or wood on mountain tops or other prominent ground. In every case it is necessary that the precise centre of the station be marked by some permanent mark. In India no expense is spared in making permanent the principal trigonometrical stations—costly towers in masonry being erected. It is essential that every trigonometrical station shall present a fine object for observation from surrounding stations.

Horizontal Angles.

In placing the theodolite over a station to be observed from, the first point to be attended to is that it shall rest upon a perfectly solid foundation. The method of obtaining this desideratum must depend entirely on the nature of the ground; the instrument must if possible be supported on rock, or if that be impossible a solid foundation must be obtained by digging. When the theodolite is required to be raised above the surface of the ground in order to command particular points, it is necessary to build two scaffolds,—the outer one to carry the observatory, the inner one to carry the instrument,—and these two edifices must have no point of contact. Many cases of high scaffolding have occurred on the English Ordnance Survey, as for instance at Thaxted church, where the tower, 80 ft. high, is surmounted by a spire of 90 ft. The scaffold for the observatory was carried from the base to the top of the spire; that for the instrument was raised from a point of the spire 140 ft. above the ground, having its bearing upon timbers passing through the spire at that height. Thus the instrument, at a height of 178 ft. above the ground, was insulated, and not affected by the action of the wind on the observatory.

At every station it is necessary to examine and correct the adjustments of the theodolite, which are these: the line of collimation of the telescope must be perpendicular to its axis of rotation; this axis perpendicular to the vertical axis of the instrument; and the latter perpendicular to the plane of the horizon. The micrometer microscopes must also measure correct quantities on the divided circle or circles. The method of observing is this. Let A, B, C . . . be the stations to be observed taken in order of azimuth; the telescope is first directed to A and the cross-hairs of the telescope made to bisect the object presented by A, then the microscopes or verniers of the horizontal circle (also of the vertical circle if necessary) are read and recorded. The telescope is then turned to B, which is observed in the same manner; then C and the other stations. Coming round by continuous motion to A, it is again observed, and the agreement of this second reading with the first is some test of the stability of the instrument. In taking this round of angles—or “arc,” as it is called on the Ordnance Survey—it is desirable that the interval of time between the first and second observations of A should be as small as may be consistent with due care. Before taking the next arc the horizontal circle is moved through 20° or 30°; thus a different set of divisions of the circle is used in each arc, which tends to eliminate the errors of division.

It is very desirable that all arcs at a station should contain one point in common, to which all angular measurements are thus referred,—the observations on each arc commencing and ending with this point, which is on the Ordnance Survey called the “referring object.” It is usual for this purpose to select, from among the points which have to be observed, that one which affords the best object for precise observation. For mountain tops a “referring object” is constructed of two rectangular plates of metal in the same vertical plane, their edges parallel and placed at such a distance apart that the light of the sky seen through appears as a vertical line about 10″ in width. The best distance for this object is from 1 to 2 miles.

This method seems at first sight very advantageous; but if, however, it be desired to attain the highest accuracy, it is better, as shown by General Schreiber of Berlin in 1878, to measure only single angles, and as many of these as possible between the directions to be determined. Division-errors are thus more perfectly eliminated, and errors due to the variation in the stability, &c., of the instruments are diminished. This method is rapidly gaining precedence.

The theodolites used in geodesy vary in pattern and in size—the horizontal circles ranging from 10 in. to 36 in. in diameter. In Ramsden’s 36-in. theodolite the telescope has a focal length of 36 in. and an aperture of 2.5 in., the ordinarily used magnifying power being 54; this last, however, can of course be changed at the requirements of the observer or of the weather. The probable error of a single observation of a fine object with this theodolite is about 0″.2. Fig. 2 represents an altazimuth theodolite of an improved pattern used on the Ordnance Survey. The horizontal circle of 14-in. diameter is read by three micrometer microscopes; the vertical circle has a diameter of 12 in., and is read by two microscopes. In the great trigonometrical survey of India the theodolites used in the more important parts of the work have been of 2 and 3 ft. diameter—the circle read by five equidistant microscopes. Every angle is measured twice in each position of the zero of the horizontal circle, of which there are generally ten; the entire number of measures of an angle is never less than 20. An examination of 1407 angles showed that the probable error of an observed angle is on the average ±0″.28.

For the observations of very distant stations it is usual to employ a heliotrope (from the Gr. ἥλιος, sun; τρόπος, a turn), invented by Gauss at Göttingen in 1821. In its simplest form this is a plane mirror, 4, 6, or 8 in. in diameter, capable of rotation round a horizontal and a vertical axis. This mirror is placed at the station to be observed, and in fine weather it is kept so directed that the rays of the sun reflected by it strike the distant observing telescope. To the observer the heliotrope presents the appearance of a star of the first or second magnitude, and is generally a pleasant object for observing.

Observations at night, with the aid of light-signals, have been repeatedly made, and with good results, particularly in France by General François Perrier, and more recently in the United States by the Coast and Geodetic Survey; the signal employed being an acetylene bicycle-lamp, with a lens 5 in. in diameter. Particularly noteworthy are the trigonometrical connexions of Spain and Algeria, which were carried out in 1879 by Generals Ibañez and Perrier (over a distance of 270 km.), of Sicily and Malta in 1900, and of the islands of Elba and Sardinia in 1902 by Dr Guarducci (over distances up to 230 km.); in these cases artificial light was employed: in the first case electric light and in the two others acetylene lamps.

Fig. 2.—Altazimuth Theodolite.
Astronomical Observations.

The direction of the meridian is determined either by a theodolite or a portable transit instrument. In the former case the operation consists in observing the angle between a terrestrial object—generally a mark specially erected and capable of illumination at night—and a close circumpolar star at its greatest eastern or western azimuth, or, at any rate, when very near that position. If the observation be made t minutes of time before or after the time of greatest azimuth, the azimuth then will differ from its maximum value by (450t)² sin 1″ sin 2δ/sin z, in seconds of angle, omitting smaller terms, δ being the star’s declination and z its zenith distance. The collimation and level errors are very carefully determined before and after these observations, and it is usual to arrange the observations by the reversal of the telescope so that collimation error shall disappear. If b, c be the level and collimation errors, the correction to the circle reading is b cot z ± c cosec z, b being positive when the west end of the axis is high. It is clear that any uncertainty as to the real state of the level will produce a corresponding uncertainty in the resulting value of the azimuth,—an uncertainty which increases with the latitude and is very large in high latitudes. This may be partly remedied by observing in connexion with the star its reflection in mercury. In determining the value of “one division” of a level tube, it is necessary to bear in mind that in some the value varies considerably with the temperature. By experiments on the level of Ramsden’s 3-foot theodolite, it was found that though at the ordinary temperature of 66° the value of a division was about one second, yet at 32° it was about five seconds.

In a very excellent portable transit used on the Ordnance Survey, the uprights carrying the telescope are constructed of mahogany, each upright being built of several pieces glued and screwed together; the base, which is a solid and heavy plate of iron, carries a reversing apparatus for lifting the telescope out of its bearings, reversing it and letting it down again. Thus is avoided the change of temperature which the telescope would incur by being lifted by the hands of the observer. Another form of transit is the German diagonal form, in which the rays of light after passing through the object-glass are turned by a total reflection prism through one of the transverse arms of the telescope, at the extremity of which arm is the eye-piece. The unused half of the ordinary telescope being cut away is replaced by a counterpoise. In this instrument there is the advantage that the observer without moving the position of his eye commands the whole meridian, and that the level may remain on the pivots whatever be the elevation of the telescope. But there is the disadvantage that the flexure of the transverse axis causes a variable collimation error depending on the zenith distance of the star to which it is directed; and moreover it has been found that in some cases the personal error of an observer is not the same in the two positions of the telescope.

To determine the direction of the meridian, it is well to erect two marks at nearly equal angular distances on either side of the north meridian line, so that the pole star crosses the vertical of each mark a short time before and after attaining its greatest eastern and western azimuths.

Fig. 3.

If now the instrument, perfectly levelled, is adjusted to have its centre wire on one of the marks, then when elevated to the star, the star will traverse the wire, and its exact position in the field at any moment can be measured by the micrometer wire. Alternate observations of the star and the terrestrial mark, combined with careful level readings and reversals of the instrument, will enable one, even with only one mark, to determine the direction of the meridian in the course of an hour with a probable error of less than a second. The second mark enables one to complete the station more rapidly and gives a check upon the work. As an instance, at Findlay Seat, in latitude 57° 35′, the resulting azimuths of the two marks were 177° 45′ 37″.29 ± 0″.20 and 182° 17′ 15″.61 ± 0″.13, while the angle between the two marks directly measured by a theodolite was found to be 4° 31′ 37″.43 ± 0″.23.

We now come to the consideration of the determination of time with the transit instrument. Let fig. 3 represent the sphere stereographically projected on the plane of the horizon,—ns being the meridian, we the prime vertical, Z, P the zenith and the pole. Let p be the point in which the production of the axis of the instrument meets the celestial sphere, S the position of a star when observed on a wire whose distance from the collimation centre is c. Let a be the azimuthal deviation, namely, the angle wZp, b the level error so that Zp = 90° − b. Let also the hour angle corresponding to p be 90° − n, and the declination of the same = m, the star’s declination being δ, and the latitude φ. Then to find the hour angle ZPS = τ of the star when observed, in the triangles pPS, pPZ we have, since pPS = 90 + τn,

−Sin c= sin m sin δ + cos m cos δ sin (nτ),
Sin m = sin b sin φ − cos b cos φ sin a,
Cos m sin n = sin b cos φ + cos b sin φ sin a.

And these equations solve the problem, however large be the errors of the instrument. Supposing, as usual, a, b, m, n to be small, we have at once τ = n + c sec δ + m tan δ, which is the correction to the observed time of transit. Or, eliminating m and n by means of the second and third equations, and putting z for the zenith distance of the star, t for the observed time of transit, the corrected time is t + (a sin z + b cos z + c) / cos δ. Another very convenient form for stars near the zenith is τ = b sec φ + c sec δ + m (tan δ − tan φ).

Suppose that in commencing to observe at a station the error of the chronometer is not known; then having secured for the instrument a very solid foundation, removed as far as possible level and collimation errors, and placed it by estimation nearly in the meridian, let two stars differing considerably in declination be observed—the instrument not being reversed between them. From these two stars, neither of which should be a close circumpolar star, a good approximation to the chronometer error can be obtained; thus let ε1, ε2, be the apparent clock errors given by these stars if δ1, δ2 be their declinations the real error is

ε = ε1 + (ε1ε2) (tan φ − tan δ1) / (tan δ1 − tan δ2).

Of course this is still only approximate, but it will enable the observer (who by the help of a table of natural tangents can compute ε in a few minutes) to find the meridian by placing at the proper time, which he now knows approximately, the centre wire of his instrument on the first star that passes—not near the zenith.

The transit instrument is always reversed at least once in the course of an evening’s observing, the level being frequently read and recorded. It is necessary in most instruments to add a correction for the difference in size of the pivots.

The transit instrument is also used in the prime vertical for the determination of latitudes. In the preceding figure let q be the point in which the northern extremity of the axis of the instrument produced meets the celestial sphere. Let nZq be the azimuthal deviation = a, and b being the level error, Zq = 90° − b; let also nPq = τ and Pq = ψ. Let S′ be the position of a star when observed on a wire whose distance from the collimation centre is c, positive when to the south, and let h be the observed hour angle of the star, viz. ZPS′. Then the triangles qPS′, gPZ give

−Sin c =sin δ cos ψ − cos δ sin ψ cos (h + τ),
Cos ψ =sin b sin φ + cos b cos φ cos a,
Sin ψ sin τ =cos b sin a.

Now when a and b are very small, we see from the last two equations that ψ = φb, a = τ sin ψ, and if we calculate φ′ by the formula cot φ′ = cot δ cos h, the first equation leads us to this result—

φ = φ′ + (a sin z + b cos z + c) / cos z,

the correction for instrumental error being very similar to that applied to the observed time of transit in the case of meridian observations. When a is not very small and z is small, the formulae required are more complicated.

Fig. 4.—Zenith Telescope constructed for the International Stations at Mizusawa, Carloforte, Gaithersburg and Ukiah, by Hermann Wanschaff, Berlin.

The method of determining latitude by transits in the prime vertical has the disadvantage of being a somewhat slow process, and of requiring a very precise knowledge of the time, a disadvantage from which the zenith telescope is free. In principle this instrument is based on the proposition that when the meridian zenith distances of two stars at their upper culminations—one being to the north and the other to the south of the zenith—are equal, the latitude is the mean of their declinations; or, if the zenith distance of a star culminating to the south of the zenith be Z, its declination being δ, and that of another culminating to the north with zenith distance Z′ and declination δ′, then clearly the latitude is 1/2(δ + δ′) + 1/2(Z − Z′). Now the zenith telescope does away with the divided circle, and substitutes the measurement micrometrically of the quantity Z′ − Z.

In fig. 4 is shown a zenith telescope by H. Wanschaff of Berlin, which is the type used (according to the Central Bureau at Potsdam) since about 1890 for the determination of the variations of latitude due to different, but as yet imperfectly understood, influences. The instrument is supported on a strong tripod, fitted with levelling screws; to this tripod is fixed the azimuth circle and a long vertical steel axis. Fitting on this axis is a hollow axis which carries on its upper end a short transverse horizontal axis with a level. This latter carries the telescope, which, supported at the centre of its length, is free to rotate in a vertical plane. The telescope is thus mounted eccentrically with respect to the vertical axis around which it revolves. Two extremely sensitive levels are attached to the telescope, which latter carries a micrometer in its eye-piece, with a screw of long range for measuring differences of zenith distance. Two levels are employed for controlling and increasing the accuracy. For this instrument stars are selected in pairs, passing north and south of the zenith, culminating within a few minutes of time and within about twenty minutes (angular) of zenith distance of each other. When a pair of stars is to be observed, the telescope is set to the mean of the zenith distances and in the plane of the meridian. The first star on passing the central meridional wire is bisected by the micrometer; then the telescope is rotated very carefully through 180° round the vertical axis, and the second star on passing through the field is bisected by the micrometer on the centre wire. The micrometer has thus measured the difference of the zenith distances, and the calculation to get the latitude is most simple. Of course it is necessary to read the level, and the observations are not necessarily confined to the centre wire. In fact if n, s be the north and south readings of the level for the south star, n′, s′ the same for the north star, l the value of one division of the level, m the value of one division of the micrometer, r, r ′ the refraction corrections, μ, μ′ the micrometer readings of the south and north star, the micrometer being supposed to read from the zenith, then, supposing the observation made on the centre wire,—

φ = 1/2 (δ + δ′) + 1/2 (μμ′)m + 1/4 (n + n′ − ss′)l + 1/2 (rr ′).

It is of course of the highest importance that the value m of the screw be well determined. This is done most effectually by observing the vertical movement of a close circumpolar star when at its greatest azimuth.

In a single night with this instrument a very accurate result, say with a probable error of about 0″.2, could be obtained for latitude from, say, twenty pair of stars; but when the latitude is required to be obtained with the highest possible precision, two nights at least are necessary. The weak point of the zenith telescope lies in the circumstance that its requirements prevent the selection of stars whose positions are well fixed; very frequently it is necessary to have the declinations of the stars selected for this instrument specially observed at fixed observatories. The zenith telescope is made in various sizes from 30 to 54 in. in focal length; a 30-in. telescope is sufficient for the highest purposes and is very portable. The net observation probable-error for one pair of stars is only ±0″.1.

The zenith telescope is a particularly pleasant instrument to work with, and an observer has been known (a sergeant of Royal Engineers, on one occasion) to take every star in his list during eleven hours on a stretch, namely, from 6 o’clock p.m. until 5 a.m., and this on a very cold November night on one of the highest points of the Grampians. Observers accustomed to geodetic operations attain considerable powers of endurance. Shortly after the commencement of the observations on one of the hills in the Isle of Skye a storm carried away the wooden houses of the men and left the observatory roofless. Three observatory roofs were subsequently demolished, and for some time the observatory was used without a roof, being filled with snow every night and emptied every morning. Quite different, however, was the experience of the same party when on the top of Ben Nevis, 4406 ft. high. For about a fortnight the state of the atmosphere was unusually calm, so much so, that a lighted candle could often be carried between the tents of the men and the observatory, whilst at the foot of the hill the weather was wild and stormy.

The determination of the difference of longitude between two stations A and B resolves itself into the determination of the local time at each of the stations, and the comparison by signals of the clocks at A and B. Whenever telegraphic lines are available these comparisons are made by telegraphy. A small and delicately-made apparatus introduced into the mechanism of an astronomical clock or chronometer breaks or closes by the action of the clock an electric circuit every second. In order to record the minutes as well as seconds, one second in each minute, namely that numbered 0 or 60, is omitted. The seconds are recorded on a chronograph, which consists of a cylinder revolving uniformly at the rate of one revolution per minute covered with white paper, on which a pen having a slow movement in the direction of the axis of the cylinder describes a continuous spiral. This pen is deflected through the agency of an electromagnet every second, and thus the seconds of the clock are recorded on the chronograph by offsets from the spiral curve. An observer having his hand on a contact key in the same circuit can record in the same manner his observed times of transits of stars. The method of determination of difference of longitude is, therefore, virtually as follows. After the necessary observations for instrumental corrections, which are recorded only at the station of observation, the clock at A is put in connexion with the circuit so as to write on both chronographs, namely, that at A and that at B. Then the clock at B is made to write on both chronographs. It is clear that by this double operation one can eliminate the effect of the small interval of time consumed in the transmission of signals, for the difference of longitude obtained from the one chronograph will be in excess by as much as that obtained from the other will be in defect. The determination of the personal errors of the observers in this delicate operation is a matter of the greatest importance, as therein lies probably the chief source of residual error.

These errors can nevertheless be almost entirely avoided by using the impersonal micrometer of Dr Repsold (Hamburg, 1889). In this device there is a movable micrometer wire which is brought by hand into coincidence with the star and moved along with it; at fixed points there are electrical contacts, which replace the fixed wires. Experiments at the Geodetic Institute and Central Bureau at Potsdam in 1891 gave the following personal equations in the case of four observers:—

  Older Procedure. New Procedure.
A − B −0s.108 −0s.004
A − G −0s.314 −0s.035
A − S −0s.184 −0s.027
B − G −0s.225 +0s.013
B − S −0s.086 −0s.023
G − S +0s.109 −0s.006

These results show that in the later method the personal equation is small and not so variable; and consequently the repetition of longitude determinations with exchanged observers and apparatus entirely eliminates the constant errors, the probable error of such determinations on ten nights being scarcely ±0s.01.

Calculation of Triangulation.

The surface of Great Britain and Ireland is uniformly covered by triangulation, of which the sides are of various lengths from 10 to 111 miles. The largest triangle has one angle at Snowdon in Wales, another on Slieve Donard in Ireland, and a third at Scaw Fell in Cumberland; each side is over a hundred miles and the spherical excess is 64″. The more ordinary method of triangulation is, however, that of chains of triangles, in the direction of the meridian and perpendicular thereto. The principal triangulations of France, Spain, Austria and India are so arranged. Oblique chains of triangles are formed in Italy, Sweden and Norway, also in Germany and Russia, and in the United States. Chains are composed sometimes merely of consecutive plain triangles; sometimes, and more frequently in India, of combinations of triangles forming consecutive polygonal figures. In this method of triangulating, the sides of the triangles are generally from 20 to 30 miles in length—seldom exceeding 40.

The inevitable errors of observation, which are inseparable from all angular as well as other measurements, introduce a great difficulty into the calculation of the sides of a triangulation. Starting from a given base in order to get a required distance, it may generally be obtained in several different ways—that is, by using different sets of triangles. The results will certainly differ one from another, and probably no two will agree. The experience of the computer will then come to his aid, and enable him to say which is the most trustworthy result; but no experience or ability will carry him through a large network of triangles with anything like assurance. The only way to obtain trustworthy results is to employ the method of least squares. We cannot here give any illustration of this method as applied to general triangulation, for it is most laborious, even for the simplest cases.

Three stations, projected on the surface of the sea, give a spherical or spheroidal triangle according to the adoption of the sphere or the ellipsoid as the form of the surface. A spheroidal triangle differs from a spherical triangle, not only in that the curvatures of the sides are different one from another, but more especially in this that, while in the spherical triangle the normals to the surface at the angular points meet at the centre of the sphere, in the spheroidal triangle the normals at the angles A, B, C meet the axis of revolution of the spheroid in three different points, which we may designate α, β, γ respectively. Now the angle A of the triangle as measured by a theodolite is the inclination of the planes BAα and CAα, and the angle at B is that contained by the planes ABβ and CBβ. But the planes ABα and ABβ containing the line AB in common cut the surface in two distinct plane curves. In order, therefore, that a spheroidal triangle may be exactly defined, it is necessary that the nature of the lines joining the three vertices be stated. In a mathematical point of view the most natural definition is that the sides be geodetic or shortest lines. C. C. G. Andrae, of Copenhagen, has also shown that other lines give a less convenient computation.

K. F. Gauss, in his treatise, Disquisitiones generales circa superficies curvas, entered fully into the subject of geodetic (or geodesic) triangles, and investigated expressions for the angles of a geodetic triangle whose sides are given, not certainly finite expressions, but approximations inclusive of small quantities of the fourth order, the side of the triangle or its ratio to the radius of the nearly spherical surface being a small quantity of the first order. The terms of the fourth order, as given by Gauss for any surface in general, are very complicated even when the surface is a spheroid. If we retain small quantities of the second order only, and put A, B, C for the angles of the geodetic triangle, while A, B, C are those of a plane triangle having sides equal respectively to those of the geodetic triangle, then, σ being the area of the plane triangle and a, b, c the measures of curvature at the angular points,

A  = A + σ(2a + b + c) / 12,
B = B + σ(a + 2b + c) / 12,
C  = C + σ(a + b + 2c) / 12.

For the sphere a = b = c, and making this simplification, we obtain the theorem previously given by A. M. Legendre. With the terms of the fourth order, we have (after Andrae):

A − A = ε + σ k ( m2a2 k + ak ),
3 3 20 4k
B − B = ε + σ k ( m2b2 k + bk ),
3 3 20 4k
C − C = ε + σ k ( m2c2 k + ck ),
3 3 20 4k

in which ε = σk {1 + (m2k / 8)}, 3m2 = a2 + b2 + c2, 3k = a + b + c. For the ellipsoid of rotation the measure of curvature is equal to 1/ρn, ρ and n being the radii of curvature of the meridian and perpendicular.

It is rarely that the terms of the fourth order are required. As a rule spheroidal triangles are calculated as spherical (after Legendre), i.e. like plane triangles with a decrease of each angle of about ε /3; ε must, however, be calculated for each triangle separately with its mean measure of curvature k.

The geodetic line being the shortest that can be drawn on any surface between two given points, we may be conducted to its most important characteristics by the following considerations: let p, q be adjacent points on a curved surface; through s the middle point of the chord pq imagine a plane drawn perpendicular to pq, and let S be any point in the intersection of this plane with the surface; then pS + Sq is evidently least when sS is a minimum, which is when sS is a normal to the surface; hence it follows that of all plane curves on the surface joining p, q, when those points are indefinitely near to one another, that is the shortest which is made by the normal plane. That is to say, the osculating plane at any point of a geodetic line contains the normal to the surface at that point. Imagine now three points in space, A, B, C, such that AB = BC = c; let the direction cosines of AB be l, m, n, those of BC l ′, m′, n′, then x, y, z being the co-ordinates of B, those of A and C will be respectively—

xcl  : ycm  : zcn
x + cl ′ : y + cm′ : z + cn′.

Hence the co-ordinates of the middle point M of AC are x + 1/2c(l ′ − l), y + 1/2c(m′ − m), z + 1/2c(n′ − n), and the direction cosines of BM are therefore proportional to l ′ − l : m′ − m : n′ − n. If the angle made by BC with AB be indefinitely small, the direction cosines of BM are as δl : δm : δn. Now if AB, BC be two contiguous elements of a geodetic, then BM must be a normal to the surface, and since δl, δm, δn are in this case represented by δ(dx/ds), δ(dy/ds), δ(dz/ds), and if the equation of the surface be u = 0, we have

d2x / du = d2y / du = d2z / du ,
ds2 dx ds2 dy ds2 dz

which, however, are equivalent to only one equation. In the case of the spheroid this equation becomes

y d2x  −  d2y = 0,
ds2 ds2

which integrated gives ydxxdy = Cds. This again may be put in the form r sin a = C, where a is the azimuth of the geodetic at any point—the angle between its direction and that of the meridian—and r the distance of the point from the axis of revolution.

From this it may be shown that the azimuth at A of the geodetic joining AB is not the same as the astronomical azimuth at A of B or that determined by the vertical plane AαB. Generally speaking, the geodetic lies between the two plane section curves joining A and B which are formed by the two vertical planes, supposing these points not far apart. If, however, A and B are nearly in the same latitude, the geodetic may cross (between A and B) that plane curve which lies nearest the adjacent pole of the spheroid. The condition of crossing is this. Suppose that for a moment we drop the consideration of the earth’s non-sphericity, and draw a perpendicular from the pole C on AB, meeting it in S between A and B. Then A being that point which is nearest the pole, the geodetic will cross the plane curve if AS be between 1/4AB and 3/8AB. If AS lie between this last value and 1/2AB, the geodetic will lie wholly to the north of both plane curves, that is, supposing both points to be in the northern hemisphere.

The difference of the azimuths of the vertical section AB and of the geodetic AB, i.e. the astronomical and geodetic azimuths, is very small for all observable distances, being approximately:—

Geod. azimuth = Astr. azimuth − 1/12 e2/1 − e2 s2/ρn (cos2 φ sin 2α + s/4a|sin 2φ sin α), in which: e and a are the numerical eccentricity and semi-major axis respectively of the meridian ellipse, φ and α are the latitude and azimuth at A, s = AB, and ρ and n are the radii of curvature of the meridian and perpendicular at A. For s = 100 kilometres, only the first term is of moment; its value is 0″.028 cos2 φ sin 2α, and it lies well within the errors of observation. If we imagine the geodetic AB, it will generally trisect the angles between the vertical sections at A and B, so that the geodetic at A is near the vertical section AB, and at B near the section BA.[3] The greatest distance of the vertical sections one from another is e2s3 cos2 φ0 sin 2α0/16a2, in which φ0 and α0 are the mean latitude and azimuth respectively of the middle point of AB. For the value s = 64 kilometres, the maximum distance is 3 mm.

An idea of the course of a longer geodetic line may be gathered from the following example. Let the line be that joining Cadiz and St Petersburg, whose approximate positions are—

Cadiz. St Petersburg.
Lat.   36° 22′ N. 59° 56′ N.
Long.18′ W. 30° 17′ E.

If G be the point on the geodetic corresponding to F on that one of the plane curves which contains the normal at Cadiz (by “corresponding” we mean that F and G are on a meridian) then G is to the north of F; at a quarter of the whole distance from Cadiz GF is 458 ft., at half the distance it is 637 ft., and at three-quarters it is 473 ft. The azimuth of the geodetic at Cadiz differs 20″ from that of the vertical plane, which is the astronomical azimuth.

The azimuth of a geodetic line cannot be observed, so that the line does not enter of necessity into practical geodesy, although many formulae connected with its use are of great simplicity and elegance. The geodetic line has always held a more important place in the science of geodesy among the mathematicians of France, Germany and Russia than has been assigned to it in the operations of the English and Indian triangulations. Although the observed angles of a triangulation are not geodetic angles, yet in the calculation of the distance and reciprocal bearings of two points which are far apart, and are connected by a long chain of triangles, we may fall upon the geodetic line in this manner:—

If A, Z be the points, then to start the calculation from A, we obtain by some preliminary calculation the approximate azimuth of Z, or the angle made by the direction of Z with the side AB or AC of the first triangle. Let P1 be the point where this line intersects BC; then, to find P2, where the line cuts the next triangle side CD, we make the angle BP1P2 such that BP1P2 + BP1A = 180°. This fixes P2, and P3 is fixed by a repetition of the same process; so for P4, P5 .... Now it is clear that the points P1, P2, P3 so computed are those which would be actually fixed by an observer with a theodolite, proceeding in the following manner. Having set the instrument up at A, and turned the telescope in the direction of the computed bearing, an assistant places a mark P1 on the line BC, adjusting it till bisected by the cross-hairs of the telescope at A. The theodolite is then placed over P1, and the telescope turned to A; the horizontal circle is then moved through 180°. The assistant then places a mark P2 on the line CD, so as to be bisected by the telescope, which is then moved to P2, and in the same manner P3 is fixed. Now it is clear that the series of points P1, P2, P3 approaches to the geodetic line, for the plane of any two consecutive elements Pn−1 Pn, Pn Pn+1 contains the normal at Pn.

If the objection be raised that not the geodetic azimuths but the astronomical azimuths are observed, it is necessary to consider that the observed vertical sections do not correspond to points on the sea-level but to elevated points. Since the normals of the ellipsoid of rotation do not in general intersect, there consequently arises an influence of the height on the azimuth. In the case of the measurement of the azimuth from A to B, the instrument is set to a point A′ over the surface of the ellipsoid (the sea-level), and it is then adjusted to a point B′, also over the surface, say at a height h′. The vertical plane containing A′ and B′ also contains A but not B: it must therefore be rotated through a small azimuth in order to contain B. The correction amounts approximately to −e2h′ cos2φ sin 2α/2a; in the case of h′ = 1000 m., its value is 0″.108 cos2φ sin 2α.

This correction is therefore of greater importance in the case of observed azimuths and horizontal angles than in the previously considered case of the astronomical and the geodetic azimuths. The observed azimuths and horizontal angles must therefore also be corrected in the case, where it is required to dispense with geodetic lines.

When the angles of a triangulation have been adjusted by the method of least squares, and the sides are calculated, the next process is to calculate the latitudes and longitudes of all the stations starting from one given point. The calculated latitudes, longitudes and azimuths, which are designated geodetic latitudes, longitudes and azimuths, are not to be confounded with the observed latitudes, longitudes and azimuths, for these last are subject to somewhat large errors. Supposing the latitudes of a number of stations in the triangulation to be observed, practically the mean of these determines the position in latitude of the network, taken as a whole. So the orientation or general azimuth of the whole is inferred from all the azimuth observations. The triangulation is then supposed to be projected on a spheroid of given elements, representing as nearly as one knows the real figure of the earth. Then, taking the latitude of one point and the direction of the meridian there as given—obtained, namely, from the astronomical observations there—one can compute the latitudes of all the other points with any degree of precision that may be considered desirable. It is necessary to employ for this purpose formulae which will give results true even for the longest distances to the second place of decimals of seconds, otherwise there will arise an accumulation of errors from imperfect calculation which should always be avoided. For very long distances, eight places of decimals should be employed in logarithmic calculations; if seven places only are available very great care will be required to keep the last place true. Now let φ, φ′ be the latitudes of two stations A and B; α, α* their mutual azimuths counted from north by east continuously from 0° to 360°; ω their difference of longitude measured from west to east; and s the distance AB.

First compute a latitude φ1 by means of the formula φ1 = φ + (s cos α)/ρ, where ρ is the radius of curvature of the meridian at the latitude φ; this will require but four places of logarithms. Then, in the first two of the following, five places are sufficient—

ε = s2 sin α cos α,   η = s2 sin2 α tan φ1,
2ρn 2ρn
φ′ − φ = s cos (α2/3ε ) − η,
ω = s sin (α1/3ε ) ,
n cos (φ′ + 1/3η)

α* − α = ω sin (φ′ + 2/3η) − ε + 180°.

Here n is the normal or radius of curvature perpendicular to the meridian; both n and ρ correspond to latitude φ1, and ρ0 to latitude 1/2(φ + φ′). For calculations of latitude and longitude, tables of the logarithmic values of ρ sin 1″, n sin 1″, and 2nρ sin 1″ are necessary. The following table contains these logarithms for every ten minutes of latitude from 52° to 53° computed with the elements a = 20926060 and a : b = 295 : 294 :—

Lat. Log. 1 ρ/sin 1″. Log. 1/n sin 1″. Log. 1/2ρn sin 1″.
°   ′      
520 7.9939434 7.9928231 0.37131
10 9309 8190 29
20 9185 8148 28
30 9060 8107 26
40 8936 8065 24
50 8812 8024 23
530 8688 7982 22

The logarithm in the last column is that required also for the calculation of spherical excesses, the spherical excess of a triangle being expressed by ab sin C/(2ρn) sin 1″.

It is frequently necessary to obtain the co-ordinates of one point with reference to another point; that is, let a perpendicular arc be drawn from B to the meridian of A meeting it in P, then, α being the azimuth of B at A, the co-ordinates of B with reference to A are

AP = s cos (α2/3ε), BP = s sin (α1/3ε),

where ε is the spherical excess of APB, viz. s2 sin α cos α multiplied by the quantity whose logarithm is in the fourth column of the above table.

If it be necessary to determine the geographical latitude and longitude as well as the azimuths to a greater degree of accuracy than is given by the above formulae, we make use of the following formula: given the latitude φ of A, and the azimuth α and the distance s of B, to determine the latitude φ′ and longitude ω of B, and the back azimuth α′. Here it is understood that α′ is symmetrical to α, so that α* + α′ = 360°.


θ = sΔ/α, where Δ = (1 − e2 sin2 φ)1/2


ζ = e2 θ2 cos2 φ sin 2α,   ζ′ = e2 θ3 cos2 φ cos2 α;
4 (1 − e2) 6 (1 − e2)

ζ, ζ′ are always very minute quantities even for the longest distances; then, putting κ = 90° − φ,

tan α′ + ζω = sin 1/2(κθζ′) cot α
2 sin 1/2(κ + θ + ζ′) 2
tan α′ + ζω = cos 1/2(κθζ′) cot α
2 cos 1/2(κ + θ + ζ′) 2
φ′ − φ = s sin 1/2(α′ + ζα) ( 1 + θ2 cos2 α′ − α );
ρ0 sin 1/2(α′ + ζ + α) 12 2

here ρ0 is the radius of curvature of the meridian for the mean latitude 1/2(φ + φ′). These formulae are approximate only, but they are sufficiently precise even for very long distances.

For lines of any length the formulae of F. W. Bessel (Astr. Nach., 1823, iv. 241) are suitable.

If the two points A and B be defined by their geographical co-ordinates, we can accurately calculate the corresponding astronomical azimuths, i.e. those of the vertical section, and then proceed, in the case of not too great distances, to determine the length and the azimuth of the shortest lines. For any distances recourse must again be made to Bessel’s formula.[4]

Let α, α′ be the mutual azimuths of two points A, B on a spheroid, k the chord line joining them, μ, μ′ the angles made by the chord with the normals at A and B, φ, φ′, ω their latitudes and difference of longitude, and (x2 + y2)/a2 + z2 b2 = 1 the equation of the surface; then if the plane xz passes through A the co-ordinates of A and B will be

x = (a/Δ) cos φ, x′ = (a/Δ′) cos φ′ cos ω,
y = 0 y ′ = (a/Δ′) cos φ′ sin ω,
z = (a/Δ) (1 − e2) sin φ,  z′ = (a/Δ′) (1 − e2) sin φ′,

where Δ = (1 − e2 sin2 φ)1/2, Δ′ = (1 − e2 sin2 φ′)1/2, and e is the eccentricity. Let f, g, h be the direction cosines of the normal to that plane which contains the normal at A and the point B, and whose inclinations to the meridian plane of A is = α; let also l, m, n and l′, m′, n′ be the direction cosines of the normal at A, and of the tangent to the surface at A which lies in the plane passing through B, then since the first line is perpendicular to each of the other two and to the chord k, whose direction cosines are proportional to x′ − x, y ′ − y, z′ − z, we have these three equations

f (x′ − x) + gy ′ + h(z′ − z) = 0 
f l + gm + hn = 0 
f l′ + gm′ + hn′ = 0.

Eliminate f, g, h from these equations, and substitute

l = cos φ l′ = − sin φ cos α
m = 0 m′ = sin α
n = sin φ n′ = cos φ cos α,

and we get

(x′ − x) sin φ + y ′ cot α − (z′ − z) cos φ = 0.

The substitution of the values of x, z, x′, y ′, z′ in this equation will give immediately the value of cot α; and if we put ζ, ζ′ for the corresponding azimuths on a sphere, or on the supposition e = 0, the following relations exist

cot α − cot ζ = e2 cos φ Q
cos φΔ
cot α′ − cot ζ′ = −e2 cos φ′ Q
cos φ Δ
Δ′ sin φΔ sin φ′ = Q sin ω.

If from B we let fall a perpendicular on the meridian plane of A, and from A let fall a perpendicular on the meridian plane of B, then the following equations become geometrically evident:

k sin μ sin α = (a/Δ′) cos φ′ sin ω
k sin μ′ sin α′ = (a/Δ) cos φ sin ω.

Now in any surface u = 0 we have

k2 = (x′ − x)2 + (y ′ − y)2 + (z′ − z)2
−cos μ = [ (x′ − x) du + (y ′ − y) du + (z′ − z) du ] / k ( du2 + du2 + du2 ) 1/2
dx dy dz dx2 dy2 dz2
cos μ′ = [ (x′ − x) du + (y ′ − y) du + (z′ − z) du ] / k ( du2 + du2 + du2 ) 1/2 .
dx dy ′ dz dx2 dy ′2 dz2

In the present case, if we put

1 −  xx  −  zz = U,
a2 b2


k2 = 2U − e2 ( z′ − z ) 2
a2 b
cos μ = (a/k) ΔU; cos μ′ = (a/k) Δ′U.

Let u be such an angle that

(1 − e2)1/2 sin φ = Δ sin u
cos φ = Δ cos u,

then on expressing x, x′, z, z′ in terms of u and u ′,

U = 1 − cos u cos u ′ cos ω − sin u sin u ′;

also, if v be the third side of a spherical triangle, of which two sides are 1/2πu and 1/2πu ′ and the included angle ω, using a subsidiary angle ψ such that

sin ψ sin 1/2v = e sin 1/2 (u ′ − u) cos 1/2 (u ′ + u),

we obtain finally the following equations:—

k = 2a cos ψ sin 1/2v
cos μ = Δ sec ψ sin 1/2v
cos μ = Δ′ sec ψ sin 1/2v
sin μ sin α = (a/k) cos u ′ sin ω
sin μ′ sin α = (a/k) cos u sin ω.

These determine rigorously the distance, and the mutual zenith distances and azimuths, of any two points on a spheroid whose latitudes and difference of longitude are given.

By a series of reductions from the equations containing ζ, ζ′ it may be shown that

α + α′ = ζ + ζ′ + 1/4e4ω (φ′ − φ)2 cos4 φ0 sin φ0 + ...,

where φ0 is the mean of φ and φ′, and the higher powers of e are neglected. A short computation will show that the small quantity on the right-hand side of this equation cannot amount even to the thousandth part of a second for k < 0.1a, which is, practically speaking, zero; consequently the sum of the azimuths α + α′ on the spheroid is equal to the sum of the spherical azimuths, whence follows this very important theorem (known as Dalby’s theorem). If φ, φ′ be the latitudes of two points on the surface of a spheroid, ω their difference of longitude, α, α′ their reciprocal azimuths,

tan 1/2ω = cot 1/2 (α + α′) {cos 1/2 (φ′ − φ) / sin 1/2 (φ′ + φ)}.

The computation of the geodetic from the astronomical azimuths has been given above. From k we can now compute the length s of the vertical section, and from this the shortest length. The difference of length of the geodetic line and either of the plane curves is

e4s5 cos4 φ0 sin2 2α0/360 a4.

At least this is an approximate expression. Supposing s = 0.1a, this quantity would be less than one-hundredth of a millimetre. The line s is now to be calculated as a circular arc with a mean radius r along AB. If φ0 = 1/2 (φ + φ′), α0 = 1/2 (180° + αα′), Δ0 = (1 − e2 sin2 φ0)1/2, then 1/r = Δ0/a (1 + e2/1 − e2 cos2 φ0 cos2 α0), and approximately sin (s/2r) = k/2r. These formulae give, in the case of k = 0.1a, values certain to eight logarithmic decimal places. An excellent series of formulae for the solution of the problem, to determine the azimuths, chord and distance along the surface from the geographical co-ordinates, was given in 1882 by Ch. M. Schols (Archives Néerlandaises, vol. xvii.).

Irregularities of the Earth’s Surface.

In considering the effect of unequal distribution of matter in the earth’s crust on the form of the surface, we may simplify the matter by disregarding the considerations of rotation and eccentricity. In the first place, supposing the earth a sphere covered with a film of water, let the density ρ be a function of the distance from the centre so that surfaces of equal density are concentric spheres. Let now a disturbance of the arrangement of matter take place, so that the density is no longer to be expressed by ρ, a function of r only, but is expressed by ρ + ρ′, where ρ′ is a function of three co-ordinates θ, φ, r. Then ρ′ is the density of what may be designated disturbing matter; it is positive in some places and negative in others, and the whole quantity of matter whose density is ρ′ is zero. The previously spherical surface of the sea of radius a now takes a new form. Let P be a point on the disturbed surface, P′ the corresponding point vertically below it on the undisturbed surface, PP′ = N. The knowledge of N over the whole surface gives us the form of the disturbed or actual surface of the sea; it is an equipotential surface, and if V be the potential at P of the disturbing matter ρ′, M the mass of the earth (the attraction-constant is assumed equal to unity)

M + V = C = M M N + V.
a + N a a2

As far as we know, N is always a very small quantity, and we have with sufficient approximation N = 3V/4πδa, where δ is the mean density of the earth. Thus we have the disturbance in elevation of the sea-level expressed in terms of the potential of the disturbing matter. If at any point P the value of N remain constant when we pass to any adjacent point, then the actual surface is there parallel to the ideal spherical surface; as a rule, however, the normal at P is inclined to that at P′, and astronomical observations have shown that this inclination, the deflection or deviation, amounting ordinarily to one or two seconds, may in some cases exceed 10″, or, as at the foot of the Himalayas, even 60″. By the expression “mathematical figure of the earth” we mean the surface of the sea produced in imagination so as to percolate the continents. We see then that the effect of the uneven distribution of matter in the crust of the earth is to produce small elevations and depressions on the mathematical surface which would be otherwise spheroidal. No geodesist can proceed far in his work without encountering the irregularities of the mathematical surface, and it is necessary that he should know how they affect his astronomical observations. The whole of this subject is dealt with in his usual elegant manner by Bessel in the Astronomische Nachrichten, Nos. 329, 330, 331, in a paper entitled “Ueber den Einfluss der Unregelmässigkeiten der Figur der Erde auf geodätische Arbeiten, &c.” But without entering into further details it is not difficult to see how local attraction at any station affects the determinations of latitude, longitude and azimuth there.

Let there be at the station an attraction to the north-east throwing the zenith to the south-west, so that it takes in the celestial sphere a position Z′, its undisturbed position being Z. Let the rectangular components of the displacement ZZ′ be ξ measured southwards and η measured westwards. Now the great circle joining Z′ with the pole of the heavens P makes there an angle with the meridian PZ = η cosec PZ′ = η sec φ, where φ is the latitude of the station. Also this great circle meets the horizon in a point whose distance from the great circle PZ is η sec φ sin φ = η tan φ. That is, a meridian mark, fixed by observations of the pole star, will be placed that amount to the east of north. Hence the observed latitude requires the correction ξ; the observed longitude a correction η sec φ; and any observed azimuth a correction η tan φ. Here it is supposed that azimuths are measured from north by east, and longitudes eastwards. The horizontal angles are also influenced by the deflections of the plumb-line, in fact, just as if the direction of the vertical axis of the theodolite varied by the same amount. This influence, however, is slight, so long as the sights point almost horizontally at the objects, which is always the case in the observation of distant points.

The expression given for N enables one to form an approximate estimate of the effect of a compact mountain in raising the sea-level. Take, for instance, Ben Nevis, which contains about a couple of cubic miles; a simple calculation shows that the elevation produced would only amount to about 3 in. In the case of a mountain mass like the Himalayas, stretching over some 1500 miles of country with a breadth of 300 and an average height of 3 miles, although it is difficult or impossible to find an expression for V, yet we may ascertain that an elevation amounting to several hundred feet may exist near their base. The geodetical operations, however, rather negative this idea, for it was shown by Colonel Clarke (Phil. Mag., 1878) that the form of the sea-level along the Indian arc departs but slightly from that of the mean figure of the earth. If this be so, the action of the Himalayas must be counteracted by subterranean tenuity.

Suppose now that A, B, C, ... are the stations of a network of triangulation projected on or lying on a spheroid of semiaxis major and eccentricity a, e, this spheroid having its axis parallel to the axis of rotation of the earth, and its surface coinciding with the mathematical surface of the earth at A. Then basing the calculations on the observed elements at A, the calculated latitudes, longitudes and directions of the meridian at the other points will be the true latitudes, &c., of the points as projected on the spheroid. On comparing these geodetic elements with the corresponding astronomical determinations, there will appear a system of differences which represent the inclinations, at the various points, of the actual irregular surface to the surface of the spheroid of reference. These differences will suggest two things,—first, that we may improve the agreement of the two surfaces, by not restricting the spheroid of reference by the condition of making its surface coincide with the mathematical surface of the earth at A; and secondly, by altering the form and dimensions of the spheroid. With respect to the first circumstance, we may allow the spheroid two degrees of freedom, that is, the normals of the surfaces at A may be allowed to separate a small quantity, compounded of a meridional difference and a difference perpendicular to the same. Let the spheroid be so placed that its normal at A lies to the north of the normal to the earth’s surface by the small quantity ξ and to the east by the quantity η. Then in starting the calculation of geodetic latitudes, longitudes and azimuths from A, we must take, not the observed elements φ, α, but for φ, φ + ξ, and for α, α + η tan φ, and zero longitude must be replaced by η sec φ. At the same time suppose the elements of the spheroid to be altered from a, e to a + da, e + de. Confining our attention at first to the two points A, B, let (φ′), (α′), (ω) be the numerical elements at B as obtained in the first calculation, viz. before the shifting and alteration of the spheroid; they will now take the form

(φ′) + fξ + gη + hda + kde,
(α′) + f ′ξ + g′η + h′da + kde,
(ω) + f ″ξ + gη + hda + kde,

where the coefficients f, g, ... &c. can be numerically calculated. Now these elements, corresponding to the projection of B on the spheroid of reference, must be equal severally to the astronomically determined elements at B, corrected for the inclination of the surfaces there. If ξ′, η′ be the components of the inclination at that point, then we have

ξ = (φ′) − φ′ + fξ + gη + hda + kde,
η′ tan φ = (α′) − α′ + f ′ξ + gη + hda + kde,
η′ sec φ = (ω) − ω + f ″ξ + gη + hda + k″de,

where φ′, α′, ω are the observed elements at B. Here it appears that the observation of longitude gives no additional information, but is available as a check upon the azimuthal observations.

If now there be a number of astronomical stations in the triangulation, and we form equations such as the above for each point, then we can from them determine those values of ξ, η, da, de, which make the quantity ξ2 + η2 + ξ2 + η2 + ... a minimum. Thus we obtain that spheroid which best represents the surface covered by the triangulation.

In the Account of the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain and Ireland will be found the determination, from 75 equations, of the spheroid best representing the surface of the British Isles. Its elements are a = 20927005 ± 295 ft., b : a − b = 280 ± 8; and it is so placed that at Greenwich Observatory ξ = 1″.864, η = −0″.546.

Taking Durham Observatory as the origin, and the tangent plane to the surface (determined by ξ = −0″.664, η = −4″.117) as the plane of x and y, the former measured northwards, and z measured vertically downwards, the equation to the surface is

.99524953 x2 + .99288005 y2 + .99763052 z2 − 0.00671003xz − 41655070z = 0.


The precise determination of the altitude of his station is a matter of secondary importance to the geodesist; nevertheless it is usual to observe the zenith distances of all trigonometrical points. Of great importance is a knowledge of the height of the base for its reduction to the sea-level. Again the height of a station does influence a little the observation of terrestrial angles, for a vertical line at B does not lie generally in the vertical plane of A (see above). The height above the sea-level also influences the geographical latitude, inasmuch as the centrifugal force is increased and the magnitude and direction of the attraction of the earth are altered, and the effect upon the latitude is a very small term expressed by the formula h(g′ − g) sin 2φ/ag, where g, g′ are the values of gravity at the equator and at the pole. This is h sin 2φ/5820 seconds, h being in metres, a quantity which may be neglected, since for ordinary mountain heights it amounts to only a few hundredths of a second. We can assume this amount as joined with the northern component of the plumb-line perturbations.

The uncertainties of terrestrial refraction render it impossible to determine accurately by vertical angles the heights of distant points. Generally speaking, refraction is greatest at about daybreak; from that time it diminishes, being at a minimum for a couple of hours before and after mid-day; later in the afternoon it again increases. This at least is the general march of the phenomenon, but it is by no means regular. The vertical angles measured at the station on Hart Fell showed on one occasion in the month of September a refraction of double the average amount, lasting from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The mean value of the coefficient of refraction k determined from a very large number of observations of terrestrial zenith distances in Great Britain is .0792 ± .0047; and if we separate those rays which for a considerable portion of their length cross the sea from those which do not, the former give k = .0813 and the latter k = .0753. These values are determined from high stations and long distances; when the distance is short, and the rays graze the ground, the amount of refraction is extremely uncertain and variable. A case is noted in the Indian survey where the zenith distance of a station 10.5 miles off varied from a depression of 4′ 52″.6 at 4.30 p.m. to an elevation of 2′ 24″.0 at 10.50 p.m.

If h, h′ be the heights above the level of the sea of two stations, 90° + δ, 90° + δ′ their mutual zenith distances (δ being that observed at h), s their distance apart, the earth being regarded as a sphere of radius = a, then, with sufficient precision,

h′ − h = s tan ( s 1 − 2k  − δ),   hh′ = s tan ( s 1 − 2k  − δ).
2a 2a

If from a station whose height is h the horizon of the sea be observed to have a zenith distance 90° + δ, then the above formula gives for h the value

h = a   tan2 δ
2 1 − 2k

Suppose the depression δ to be n minutes, then h = 1.054n2 if the ray be for the greater part of its length crossing the sea; if otherwise, h = 1.040n2. To take an example: the mean of eight observations of the zenith distance of the sea horizon at the top of Ben Nevis is 91° 4′ 48″, or δ = 64.8; the ray is pretty equally disposed over land and water, and hence h = 1.047n2 = 4396 ft. The actual height of the hill by spirit-levelling is 4406 ft., so that the error of the height thus obtained is only 10 ft.

The determination of altitudes by means of spirit-levelling is undoubtedly the most exact method, particularly in its present development as precise-levelling, by which there have been determined in all civilized countries close-meshed nets of elevated points covering the entire land.  (A. R. C; F. R. H.) 

  1. An arrangement acting similarly had been previously introduced by Borda.
  2. Geodetic Survey of South Africa, vol. iii. (1905), p. viii; Les Nouveaux Appareils pour la mesure rapide des bases géod., par J. René Benoît et Ch. Éd. Guillaume (1906).
  3. See a paper “On the Course of Geodetic Lines on the Earth’s Surface” in the Phil. Mag. 1870; Helmert, Theorien der höheren Geodäsie, 1. 321.
  4. Helmert, Theorien der höheren Geodäsie, 1. 232, 247.