GDA2020 gears up to reshape Australian positioning

By on 14 December, 2016


On the back of a media storm earlier in 2016 that drew international headlines on Australia’s drifting continental plate, many are still wondering if Australia’s datum will officially shift almost two metres this coming January.

The answer, in short, is yes it will.

GDA2020 is the name of the datum that in January 2017 will be ‘defined’ during January 2017 and will replace the existing GDA94 datum on over 100 of Australian GNSS CORS satellite positioning stations as the ‘Recognised Value Standard of Measurement of Position’.

To establish just what this means, Spatial Source spoke to perhaps the most crucial member of the team behind the modernisation program, Michael Giudici. As Surveyor General of Tasmania, Chair of the Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping (ICSM) and part of the GDA Modernisation Implementation Working Group (GMIWG), Australia’s new datum will be one of Giudici’s major priorities for 2017 and beyond.


Spatial Source: Can you please describe your role in GDA2020 as a Surveyor General, chair of ICSM and member of GMIWG?

Michel Giudici: As Surveyor General I am the Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping (ICSM) member for Tasmania. ICSM coordinates several technical working groups and provides a connected management role across Australia and New Zealand. At present the Datum Modernisation is one of ICSM’s biggest projects, and can only be progressed through the cooperation of all the jurisdictions. The GDA Modernisation Implementation Working Group (GMIWG) convened by ICSM is well advanced in its work, and has engaged communication expertise to assist with the messaging. The Australian jurisdictions share a vision of a spatially enabled society supported by a 21st Century national spatial reference system.

Spatial Source: How would you summarise Australia’s datum modernisation program in one sentence?

MG: Australia’s Datum Modernisation will ensure Australia’s spatial data sets align with GNSS locations so that the community can take full advantage of accurate location-based information in the digital age.

Spatial Source: Most people I speak to seem to think that GDA2020 is being released on 1 January 2017, but it appears many resources have been moved to March. Has it been delayed?

MG: The national release of GDA2020 involves publishing several components and originally it was proposed all would available in January 2017.


Michael Giudici’s full Q&A will appear in the upcoming Feb/Mar Position magazine. 

Following a meeting of GMIWG in Melbourne on November 28 and 29 the schedule for release of the various elements was revised.

Definition of GDA2020 will occur in January 2017. Definition means GDA2020 coordinates on over 100 of Australian GNSS CORS stations will be gazetted as a Recognised Value Standard of Measurement of Position under the National Measurement Act, replacing GDA94.

The development of the national GDA2020 geodetic adjustment that sits beneath the GDA2020 NTv2 transformation grid and AUSGeoid2020 surface is a technically advanced process requiring the cooperation of all jurisdictions.

While the workflows have been developed and initial versions of these outputs produced, trapping bugs and finalising them has taken several months longer than expected. Nevertheless all are expected to be available in March 2017. Similarly, online and downloadable transformation tools allowing users to readily access the GDA2020 datum is also proposed for March.

All jurisdictions will then commence the process of gradually releasing compliant data on the new datum with operational capacity expected by mid-2018.

Spatial Source: What do you mean by the term “operational capacity”?

MG: Up until now we have talked about when jurisdictions will ‘adopt’ GDA2020, highlighting that the release of GDA2020 in early 2017 didn’t mean it will be ‘adopted’ by jurisdictions at that time.  In simple terms ‘adoption’ was described as when GDA2020 would be the ‘native’ coordinate datum used by jurisdictions to store and transact data.

As jurisdictions have refined individual implementation plans it is clear that capacity to support operation in GDA2020 will be progressively achieved through 2017 and into 2018 and that this doesn’t mean GDA2020 will be the ‘native’ coordinate system for the data.

Rather, as jurisdictions have assessed the challenges of data transformation and delivery it has been agreed that by mid- 2018 users will be able to either consume data on GDA2020 or access the data they require and transform it themselves using the transformation tools that will be available.  So we have changed the terminology to “Operational Capacity” to reflect this.


The full, in-depth, Q&A with Michael Giudici will be published exclusively in the February March issue of Position magazine as part of a ‘Dynamics & Datums’ special issue.

Giudici is also set to appear at the upcoming Locate Conference and Digital Earth Symposium taking place 3-6 April 2017 at Sydney’s International Convention Centre, where these ongoing discussions will take on a new light following the January definition of GDA2020.

The GMIWG recently released a range of resources to communicate the value and importance of the datum modernisation program.  The animation video shown above and an introductory fact sheet serve to educate inform both the general public and non-technical audiences.

Online and downloadable transformation tools are also soon to be released as open source software on GitHub. A number of other technical resources such as the National distortion grid will be released in March 2017.

Those involved in surveying and spatial sciences and the non-technical alike will soon be able to discuss issues in a new online forum, which is expected for a January 2017 launch.

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