shrug-l: NAD83/90

Sykes, John John.Sykes at
Wed Sep 6 13:38:57 EDT 2006

I have seen what may be some misleading information posted to this question
(including part of my original off-the-cuff response).  To avoid future
confusion, I'd recommend that folks check out the following website.

I also sent an e-mail to Dave Doyle, the NGS GPS guru, to provide a
description of the meaning of the date following the NAD 83.  Note that this
date is usually placed in parentheses, e.g., NAD 83(1990).  I'm pretty sure
that it refers to the adjustment date for the marker (vs. GPS CORS data, but
will wait for Dave's response).  If the date referred to vertical datum, it
should have been 88 (e.g., NAVD 88).

-- John

-----Original Message-----
From: shrug-l-bounces at
[mailto:shrug-l-bounces at] On Behalf Of Thomas, Jim
Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2006 12:54 PM
To: Mayo, Michele L.; Eric_Songer at
Cc: shrug-l at
Subject: RE: shrug-l: NAD83/90

Ahhh.  Thank you.  I thought the 90 was an update to the Datum.  It makes
sense now.  Thanks Michele!


-----Original Message-----
From: Mayo, Michele L. [mailto:Michele.Mayo at]
Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2006 12:46 PM
To: Eric_Songer at; Thomas, Jim
Cc: shrug-l at
Subject: RE: shrug-l: NAD83/90


The description below is correct as far as the horizontal datums are
concerned.  The reason for the change from NAD83 to HARN/HPGN (same
thing) is that the shape of the Earth is actually not a spheroid (a
geometrically regular shape) but rather a geoid (an irregular shape).
The new datum provides a more accurate description of the Earth's true

The term NAD83/90 refers to a combined horizontal and vertical
coordinate system, with the "90" being NAVD90, or the North American
Vertical Datum as established in 1990.

If your data have z values (elevations) then this is the datum to which
those values are referenced.

Hope this helps to clarify.


Michele Mayo, GISP
Florida DEP, Beaches and Coastal Systems Coastal Data Acquisition
Section 3900 Commonwealth Blvd. MS 300 Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000
michele.mayo at

-----Original Message-----
From: shrug-l-bounces at
[mailto:shrug-l-bounces at] On Behalf Of
Eric_Songer at
Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2006 12:09 PM
To: Thomas, Jim
Cc: shrug-l at
Subject: Re: shrug-l: NAD83/90


I'll start this and hopefully somebody else can add to the discussion.

A spheroid is a mathematical formula that describes the shape of the
earth (an ellipsoid, like a slightly flattened sphere)  A datum is a
piece of that ellipsoid stretched mathematically to known control points
to better describe a "local" area, because the earth is not all the same
at the surface.  NAD83 is the North American Datum so it's locality is
all of North America.  Around 1983 USGS updated the datum with more
accurate points all over N. America.  In 1990 somebody updated it again.
Usually that is a HARN or HPGN update and it can be referred to as that
or by the date just to add confusion.

Since there is a lot of variation across N. America, HARN (High Accuracy
Reference Network, I think) and HPGN (High Precision Ground Network,
maybe) are done, usually by an individual state, with even more accurate
These are confusing to me, so maybe somebody else can chime in here, but
basically they are more accurate mathematical descriptions of even
smaller portions of the earth's surface based on direct measurements.

This starts to matter greatly when you collect sub-meter or better GPS
data.  The HARN adjustments can be a couple of feet away from the NAD83
in places.

Eric Songer
URS Corporation
1625 Summit Lake Drive
Tallahassee, FL 32317
Direct: 850.402.6327
Main: 800.842.9671 ext. 327
eric_songer at


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