Read Kavanagh Ch. 3:
3.1 Know these definitions (not verbatum)
3.2-3.3 Understand the divergence between a horizontal line and a level line, and the
proportionality of error due to curvature and refraction with distance of the shot.
3.4 Skim read, except read 3.4.2 Level Tube. Understand the relationship between
the optical quality and precision of the level, and the radius of curvature of the
level tube.
3.5 Skip.
3.6 Know what a compensator does, and conceptually how it works.
3.7-3.8 Skim read. Become generally familiar with what a digital level is, and what a
bar code is, and how they work.
3.9-3.10 Skim read.
3.11 Know what these terms mean.
3.12 Understand differential leveling procedure
3.13 Skim read for Field Exercise. Know how to hold a rod, and “rocking” (waving) the
rod. Know how to read the rocking rod. Understand field notes for leveling
3.14 Skim read.
3.15 Skim read. Understand Table A.11
3.16 Differentiate between plan, profile, and cross-section views. Understand Fig.
3.22. Understand profile and cross-section field note formats.
3.17-3.20 Skip.
3.21 Understand the concepts of allowable error and adjusting a level loop.
3.22-3.24 Read for Field Exercise.
3.1 Definitions
Leveling = a procedure used to determine elevations of points or differences in
elevation between points

Elevation = vertical distance above or below a reference datum.

Mean sea level = a universally employed reference datum.

National Geodetic Vertical Datum (NGVD) of 1929.

North American Vertical Datum (NAVD 88).

29 or NAVD 88


(As of July 2, 1973)

(As of June 24, 1993)



BENCH MARKS 100,000 450,000

LEVELING (Km) 102,724 1,001,500

GEOID FITTING Distorted to Fit MSL Gauges Best Continental Model

NGVD 29 and NAVD 88

Benchmark (BM) = a reference mark whose elevation is known relative
to a given datum.

Backsight = a point which is to be used to determine the elevation
and/or angular orientation of the surveying instrument

Foresight = a point to which an instrument sighting is made for
measuring or establishing its elevation and/or its horizontal position

Turning Point = a temporary point whose elevation is determined during
the process of leveling; used to establish the Height of Instrument

Height of Instrument = in leveling, the height of the line of sight of the
leveling instrument above the adopted datum; in horizontal angle
measurement, the height of the center of the telescope (horizontal axis)
above the ground or station mark.
3.2 Differential Leveling Procedure
How to Read a Level Rod
How to Hold
A Level Rod
Notes on How To Perform Differential Leveling
• Level the instrument by centering the bullseye level

• Focus two things: 1) cross-hairs; 2) object; to avoid
parallax error

• Rodperson starts at backsight (pt. of known elev.),
rocks rod or uses level rod bubble

• Field notes (see example). Note that sums of BS and
FS should equal.

• Rodperson: choose turning points for reproducibility

• Avoid collimation error by making backsights and
foresights the same length
3.3 Common Methods of Leveling
There are 2 common methods of leveling:

1) Direct Differential Leveling (Spirit Leveling)= usual method of
determining elevation differences. Uses a spirit level and a rod, or a
digital level and rod. The instrument does not tilt; you set it up so the
line of sight is in the horizontal plane.

2) Trigonometric leveling = horizontal and vertical distances are
measured to compute elevation differences. Good for inaccessible
points e.g. mountain tops, offshore construction, etc. (Nowadays
when large distances are involved, GPS is commonly used instead of
trigonometric leveling.)
3.4 Instruments Commonly Used for Leveling
Dumpy Level = in common use up to the last few decades. Some contractors still use
them. Called “dumpy” because optical system allowed them to be shorter than
previous levels (for the same magnifying power).

Main components: telescope, leveling tube, leveling head.
Automatic or Self-Leveling Levels = modern types most commonly used nowadays. Automatic
levels have bullseye level to get instrument approximately level. The instrument then sets
itself level. It has a swinging prism or mirror compensator which maintains a horizontal line
of sight by allowing only the horizontal rays coming into the instrument to pass through the
optical center of the instrument. Good instruments to use because they can maintain level
even if the instrument is jiggled around a little.

Cautions when using automatic levels: 1) the compensator is hung by fine wires that
easily break with rough handling; 2) the compensator can occasionally get hung up.
Tap the end of the telescope or turn one of the leveling screws slightly. The cross hairs
should appear to deflect momentarily before returning to its original rod reading.
Electronic Digital Levels

Tilting Level (Can be used for precision
work, or use automatic levels)

Laser Level = commonly used by contractors
for grading, setting forms, etc. Two
types: 1) fixed single laser; 2) rotating
laser. The rotating laser provides a level
plane from which particular distances can
be measured. Good < 1000 ft.

Transits and theodolites may be used in lieu
of a level, but give poor results. Total
stations give comparatively better results,
but are not generally as accurate for
levelling as automatic levels, and should
generally not be used for vertical control
of construction projects, or where 3rd
order or better accuracy is needed.

3.5 The Telescope
High-powered telescope (20x to 45x power) with a spirit bubble tube attached.

Main parts of the telescope:
1) Positive objective lens = forms an image of
the object sighted. The image would be formed
ahead of the cross hairs.
2) Negative focusing lens = diverges the light
rays to bring them into focus on the cross hairs.
3) Reticle = glass with the cross hairs on it.
4) Eyepiece = actually a microscope to
enlarge the image from the reticle. Focusing the
eyepiece, e.g. focusing the cross-hairs, changes
the distance between it and the cross hairs (twist
the eyepiece to focus).
5) Hanging prisms = swings on wires to keep
line of sight level

3.6 Level Bubble
The accuracy of any survey instrument is generally most affected by the alignment (or
misalignment) of the level bubble.

Sensitivity% f ( radius of curvature) = angle of tilt / one division of scale on glass
But the larger the radius of curvature, the more difficult it is to level!

Example: If it takes 20" of arc to move the bubble by 2 mm then the radius of
curvature is:

For first order leveling, the instruments have 2" bubbles (2" of arc to move
the bubble 2 mm) with "680 ft radius.

Two types of level bubbles: 1) tube; and 2) bullseye. Sensitivity principle =
same for both.
3.7 Sighting Through the Telescope

Parallax = the apparent displacement of the
position of the point being sighted
occurring when moving the eye up or
down while looking through the

Proper procedure to avoid parallax:

1) Focus the cross-hairs on the
eyepiece. Hold a paper about six inches
in front of the lens so that it appears
fuzzy, and twist the eyepiece until the
cross-hairs come into focus

2) Sight the intended rod or object.
(Use the pointing system on top of the
barrel to help locate the rod or object).
Focus on the rod or object.

3) Check for parallax by moving the
eye up and down or sideways while
watching the rod. If the cross hairs
appear to move with respect to the
image sighted, then either the cross-
hairs or object are not properly focused.
Inaccurate sightings occur if the cross-hairs and the scope are not properly focused.
This is due to the problem of parallax.
3.8 Correction for Inclined Line of Sight (“Collimation Error”)

If instrument is not quite level but distance D is same for both BS and FS,
then the errors cancel.
3.9 Common Leveling Mistakes (Blunders)

1) Misreading rod
2) Moving turning point
3) Field not mistakes
4) Rod not fully extended
5) Forgot to level the instrument
3.10 Common Leveling Errors

1) Level rod not vertical
2) Settling of level rod on turning point
3) Mud, snow or ice buildup on bottom of rod
4) Rod damaged
5) Incorrect rod length (same as incorrect tape length)
6) BS & FS distances not equal (collimation error)
7) Bubble not centered / compensator not swinging free
8) Settling of level legs (tripod)
9) Instrument out of adjustment
10) Improper focusing of instrument (parallax error)
11) Heat waves
12) Wind or vibration causing instrument movement
13) Bumping into tripod

3.11 Corrections: Curvature and Refraction

Curvature error, c = the divergence between a level line and a horizontal line over a
specified distance
c = 0.667K
c in ft, K is dist. In miles

Rays of light are refracted downward under normal P,T conditions. Thus,
line of sight is bent downward, and curvature effect on error is reduced.
Under normal atmospheric conditions, refraction error is . 1/7th curvature
(c+r) = 0.574K
= 0.0206M
M in thousands of feet

3.12 Level Loop Adjustments

Application: when you close a level loop and find your closing elevation for the
benchmark to be different than your initial value.

Use judgment. If you suspect that some points are weaker than others (either
foresights or backsights) apportion more error to those weak points rather than
other, stronger points.

Examples of weaker shots: 1) long distance shots; 2) heat waves; 3) poorly defined
turning point; 4) instrument settling 5) reading high up on extended rod (on hill)

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