It’s About Time: A Change to the Second Could Improve Surveys

As the saying goes, time is of the essence. And if you didn’t think time could be any more accurate than the atomic clocks that most digital devices rely on daily, think again.

Have you ever thought about how long a second really is? You probably haven’t because it’s here and gone in the blink of an eye – literally. Time is used for more than just watching the hands on your clock go by from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the workday or timing yourself on the treadmill. In fact, a second is heavily used by land surveyors, bankers and other commercial fields – though perhaps not for the reason that you think.

Redefining the SecondResearchers in Germany have allegedly found a new way to redefine the length of a second, according to an article from The Independent, a nationally known news source in London. The article was written based on a journal published in Optica, a monthly scientific journal published by The Optical Society. The article states that German researchers believe they have discovered a way for time to be measured more accurately with optical clocks.

These clocks could be groundbreaking as they use the strontium atoms, which essentially “tick” at a far faster rate than cesium, which is what current atomic clocks use. What does this mean? These optical clocks use strontium atoms that vibrate with a greater frequency, making them significantly more accurate than the measure of microwave frequencies in atomic clocks. As a result, this could reduce the error in calculating seconds from approximately one nanosecond every 30 days with current atomic clocks to less than 0.2 nanoseconds every 25, according to The Independent.

So how does this help surveyors? The improved measurement of time would actually mean that GPS would be even more precise than it is now. By more accurately measuring the seconds and fractional portions of seconds, positioning devices could increase their accuracy from a range of a few feet to a matter of inches. This means that surveyors could be even more precise in putting together digital survey files or finding survey markers, allowing for more precise measurements and calculations in surveying.

Ironically, scientists expect that if this new clock is adopted, the changeover won’t occur for at least another decade, meaning that it could be a decade until we see the benefits of this new discovery. To learn more about the study’s findings, check out the full article on Optica.

At BLAZE Design, we offer comprehensive surveys at any time. We offer standard land surveying services as well as specialized surveys for topography, flood studies, subdivision planning or construction layout. To learn more or to request a quote, call us today at 802-442-2892.