A new datum or geospatial reference system is being introduced in the United States to become the official datum in 2022. Pam Fromhertz of the NOAA National Geodetic Survey gave an overview of the reasoning behind the new datum, technical details about the change and some practical implications.
A datum is a reference for position on the surface of the Earth. In surveying, a datum is a reference system for computing or correlating the results of surveys.
People in the geospatial sector in the U.S. are aware of the datums NAD27 and NAD83 which have been the reference points for all surveys performed in the U.S. NAD83 was defined primarily using terrestrial surveying techniques. NAD83 has been updated several times since being introduced in 1983, but is based on an elipsoid that is non-geocentric and is tilted slightly. The new datum or North American Terrestrial Reference Frame of 2022 (NATRF2022) is based on gravity which means that “sea level” is now represented by an equipotential gravity surface rather than the Earth’s elipsoid. The new reference frames will rely primarily on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) as well as an updated and time-tracked geoid model. Importantly, the new datum means that Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. will share a common datum. The gravity-based vertical datum will be accurate at the 2 cm level for much of the U.S. Gravity data is currently being captured across the U.S. and its territories as part of the Grav-D project.
This means that elevations may change by up to a meter and horizontal location by up to 1.5 meters. The actual corrections to elevations and horizontal locations will vary depending on location.
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