Measure without Touching: Remote Sensing Validates Height of Tallest Mountain in New Zealand

How do you measure the height of the tallest mountain in New Zealand without setting foot on summit? Aoraki, also known as Mt Cook, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Following an avalanche in 1991, a resurvey found Aoraki/Mt Cook to be 3,754 meters high – down from the 1881 surveying estimate of 3,764 meters. The summit is sacred to the Maori tribe of Ngāi Tahu and standing on it is prohibited. How can you validate the new survey without touching it?

By Jonathan Keelty from Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR (Watching Mt Cook) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The statue of Sir Edmund Hillary, gazing toward Aoraki, also known as Mt Cook

 The National School of Surveying, University of Otago turned to remote sensing and implemented Hexagon Geospatial technologies provided by Intergraph in their quest to measure the summit of Aoraki/Mount Cook.

The university turned to Hexagon Geospatial’s ERDAS IMAGINE and IMAGINE Photogrammetry (formerly LPS) to help measure the height of Mount Cook, following a large rock avalanche that changed the peak’s topography and height in 1991. For many years, the university has benefited from Hexagon Geospatial’s education licenses through Intergraph, and chose these technologies for the project due to their image processing and photogrammetric capabilities, as well as integrated workflows.

“ERDAS IMAGINE is the cornerstone of the project. It started from there,” said Pascal Sirguey, senior lecturer at National School of Surveying, University of Otago and project leader. “Using the photogrammetric capability, we were led to look more closely at what the model was telling us. The software gave us the right answer in the end.”

Using Hexagon Geospatial’s software, along with Global Navigation Satellite System receivers, the university determined the actual height of Mount Cook is 3,724 meters. For the university’s remarkable efforts, Sirguey received the top award from the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors in 2014 for teaching and education and the New Zealand Spatial Excellence Award 2014 in the Education and Professional Development category.

The expidition team

The expedition team

The University of Otago is the oldest university in New Zealand, founded in 1869 by an ordinance of the Otago Provincial Council. Its School of Surveying offers the only academic qualification leading to professional recognition as a professional land surveyor in New Zealand, following a period of post-graduation training and examination by the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors. The courses offer a broad range of disciplines – surveying, land planning and development, survey measurement and Geographic Information Systems – that equip graduates for a professional career.

Provided through Intergraph, Hexagon Geospatial’s education program provides the university with a complete geospatial software portfolio that offers support and tools for academic research projects and teaching.

Read this case study for full details.

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