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This module is part of a growing collection of classroom-tested materials developed by GETSI. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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For the Instructor

This material supports the High Precision Positioning with Static and Kinematic GPS GETSI Module. If you would like your students to have access to this material, we suggest you either point them at the Student Version which omits the framing pages with information designed for faculty (and this box). Or you can download these pages in several formats that you can include in your course website or local Learning Managment System. Learn more about using, modifying, and sharing GETSI teaching materials.

Student Materials

Welcome Students!

In this module you will learn how to use Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), or Global Positioning Systems (GPS), to solve scientific problems in the field. GNSS can aid in a wide range of earth science research applications from simple geolocation to complex hazard-assessment analysis or change detection. GNSS technologies are one of the foundations of geodesy, the science of accurately measuring and understanding three fundamental properties of the Earth: its geometric shape, its orientation in space, and its gravity field—as well as the changes of these properties with time. This has widespread application in geology and its subfields such as geomorphology and structural geology, as well as many other professions. In this course you will gain a principle understanding of how the GNSS system works and how you can apply it to solve a diverse set of scientific problems you may encounter. Your goals for this module are to:
  1. Design and conduct static and/or kinematic GPS/GNSS surveys to address a geologic research question.
  2. Apply the findings of GPS/GNSS surveys to issues important to society.
  3. Justify why different high-precision positioning techniques are appropriate in different situations.

Your instructor may choose to use all the units or just select a subset based on time or available field sites. In some courses, the prepared data sets collected by others will be used instead of actual field surveying.

Unit 1: GPS/GNSS Fundamentals

In the introductory unit, you will learn the basics of designing and conducting a GNSS survey. GNSS systems work through a constellation of satellites that emit time-encoded signals, which travel through space, are detected by antennas, and transmitted to user-controlled receivers. GNSS receivers simultaneously collect signals from multiple satellites, calculate distances between the satellite and the antenna, which results in a three-dimensional position of the antenna in space. With careful execution, these positions can be used to measure an object with extremely high accuracy and precision. These positions can then be used to measure a variety of processes, which will be visited in later units.

  • Unit 1 Accuracy-Precision-Error Student Exercise PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 434kB Apr23 18)
    • A short field activity that demonstrates application of accuracy, precision, and error to GNSS positioning using multiple grades of positioning instruments
  • Unit 1 Concept Sketch Student Assessment PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 392kB Apr9 18)
    • Assessment of student understanding of the basics of a GNSS system through a diagrammatic illustration
  • UNAVCO GPS/GNSS Campaign Handbook PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 2.4MB Apr7 18)
    • A primer for design, set up, and troubleshooting of a GNSS station and survey. This is given to students in the introduction so that they can understand the depth of the material, take notes as necessary, and reference it when necessary.

Unit 2: Kinematic GPS/GNSS Methods

In this unit, you will learn the specifics of kinematic GNSS surveys. Kinematic surveys utilize two separate GNSS antennas and receivers, which simultaneously collect positions to correct or reduce many of the errors in the satellite signal. These corrections can be applied either in real-time (RTK) or in post-processing (PPK), but both systems allow you to rapidly collect many positions over a short time, while maintaining a high accuracy of +/- 2 cm or less. Additionally, RTK systems provide many assurances in time-critical missions, such as real-time navigation and position quality assurance. You will learn how to utilize kinematic surveys and justify whether a kinematic system is appropriate for a given application. Then you will have the opportunity to use what you have learned in your own survey, an introduction to the applied surveys in Units 2.1 and 2.2.

Unit 2.1: Measuring Topography with Kinematic GPS/GNSS

In this unit, you will use your knowledge of kinematic surveys to design, conduct, and analyze results from a survey of your design. You will be tasked with recreating a topographic or other surface that serves to benefit a research question. This could include mapping a hillslope, the profile of a riverbed, terraces along a fault scarp, etc. You will learn to consider how sampling design will best benefit your research question and properly capture the surface you want to represent. You will then execute your survey and process the GNSS data. You will then import positions and turn them into an interpolated surface, a three-dimensional model of the object you collected. You will then reflect on the learning process, justify the methods that you used, and consider how you could improve this or other projects in the future.

Unit 2.2: Kinematic GPS/GNSS Methods

In this unit, you will use your knowledge of kinematic surveys to design, conduct, and analyze results from a survey of your design. You will be tasked with measuring change in the position of an object(s) or topographic surface that serves to benefit a research question. Common applications of change detection include analyzing hazards such as landslides and volcanic inflation or tracking objects such as logjams moving downriver or rocks migrating down a slope. You will learn the principle behind change detection and some considerations for the accuracy and precision of these techniques. You will then execute your survey and process the GNSS data. You will then import positions, measure change between your objects of interest, and analyze the results. Afterward, you will reflect on what you have learned and how you can use these new skills to benefit projects in the future.

Unit 3: Static GPS/GNSS Methods

In this unit, you will learn the specifics of static GNSS surveys. Static surveys use long observation times in temporary permanent installations to average positional observation and reduce error in measurements. Rapid static or campaign style deployments are used in measuring tectonic rates across mountain belts or in watching subsidence from aquifer withdrawal, or other applications where higher accuracy, but fewer points are needed. With longer occupations, such as in the Plate Boundary Observatory's permanent installations, movements as small as 1 mm/yr can be resolved and rates of tectonic motion can be observed. You will learn how to utilize rapid-static surveys and justify whether a static system is appropriate for a given application. Then you will have the opportunity to use what you have learned in your own survey, where you will expand upon a current data set with your own campaign.

This module is part of a growing collection of classroom-tested materials developed by GETSI. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »