100 years of research in geodesy and spatial data

The Finnish Geodetic Institute, that is the current Finnish Geospatial Research Institute FGI, turns 100 years old on Thursday 5 July. In honour of the day, we have written an overview of the eventful history of the 100-year-old organization.

Personnel of the Geodetic Institute in 1949
Personnel of the Geodetic Institute in 1949

The Finnish Geodetic Institute, FGI, has been developed during a century from a small group of less than 10 people to an organization of more than 140 people. When the institute was founded in 1918, its task was to perform and manage geodetic and astronomical research necessary for the basis of the mapping of Finland. It still continues to implement the original Decree "to create a scientific and accurate basis for mapping of our country". At present, the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute, FGI, of the National Land Survey of Finland is active on all major fields of geospatial research. Its topical expertise is even globally quite unique and FGI is a well-known acronym and a respected brand within its research field.

The roots of the FGI actually extend back to several centuries with Finnish scientists participating in international projects: Already in the 1730s, Finnish and Swedish scientists participated in an expedition where flattening of the Earth was confirmed by geodetic observations in the Torne River valley in Lapland. One hundred years later, there were problems in mapping when Sweden refused to hand over maps of the territory of Finland after the war lost to Russia. Finns participated also in the 19th century in the research of the fundamental question in geodesy about the size and shape of the Earth. The triangulation chain measured from the Black Sea to the Arctic Ocean, now known as the Struve chain, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, had a remarkable contribution of Finnish geodesists.

The first Satellite Laser Ranging telescope in 1978
The first Satellite Laser Ranging telescope in 1978

In the advent of the 20th century, the geodetic infrastructure which was necessary for mapping of Finland was still unmeasured, even if there was a great need and also knowledge which had been acquired during centuries. Immediately, during the first months of independence, Geodetic Institute was established. After that, with its limited resources, it began to create the geodetic basis for the mapping of our country and to carry out related research.

Although some of the measuring equipment was purchased, the most expensive or some special instruments were developed in FGI, or in cooperation with, for example, VTT, Helsinki University of Technology and Tuorla Observatory. Researchers in FGI still have the ability to customize and even build specific equipment based on new innovations. Many devices are aging within a decade, so renewal of them is a continuous process. During the Cold War 1960–1980 some Western countries even questioned whether it is safe to supply some strategic instruments to Finland because of Finnish relations and agreements with the Soviet Union. However, such questions did not prevent to acquire new instruments and since that problems have been disappeared.

Backpack laser scanner AKHKA designed and built in FGI
Backpack laser scanner AKHKA designed and built in FGI

The backpack laser scanner, goniometer, multi-frequency GNSS receiver and many other instruments are incredible demonstrations of how technology evolves and facilitates geodetic work. Satellite technology developed dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s, while laser technology became more common in the early 2000's in photogrammetric and mapping tasks.

 

 

Ambitious scientists for 100 years

Ilmari Bonsdorff (1879–1950) was the first and longest-serving director of the Geodetic Institute. He was the director over three decades, from 1918 to 1949. In the early years, Bonsdorff took part in the field work also by himself, carrying heavy instruments to the observation sites, and was even using a sledge-hammer when drilling holes in the rocks for benchmarks.

In Finland there were meager times after the war, and many foreign contacts and sources of funding were ceased completely. However, talented scientists were able to turn even this to the advantage. Bonsdorff's successor as the director, Veikko Heiskanen (1895–1971), started his lecture in the United States by saying that because "there is shortage of everything in Finland after the war, it was possible to send here only such a small man." Heiskanen was an internationally acknowledged astronomer and geodesist whose work include, for example, the model of the actual shape of the Earth and also world-famous textbooks.

Ambition has been part of the research as well the world-wide research projects. The Globe is small when trips of FGI researchers are followed from Antarctica to Australia, or China to Spitzbergen.

Veikko Heiskanen (middle) and T.J. Kukkamäki (right) in Ohio State University preparing the 1954 Solar eclipse expedition.
Veikko Heiskanen (middle) and T.J. Kukkamäki (right) in Ohio State University preparing the 1954 Solar eclipse expedition.

Bonsdorff initiated measurements where Solar eclipses were used to measure long distances. In 1947, the Geodetic Institute equipped two expeditions, one to the African Gold Coast and another to Brazil. As a result of this measurement, the distance between the places was obtained with an accuracy of 141 meters, which was by far the most accurate distance measurement of two continents. In spite that Finland was a poor country, just recovering from the war, it was investing in research in a way which today can only be admired. The Gold Coast expedition was leaded by T.J. Kukkamäki, Director of the Geodetic Institute 1963–1977. In 1975, during Kukkamäki’s leadership, a Department Photogrammetry was established in the Geodetic Institute.

Juhani Kakkuri (born 1933) starting his career as Kukkamäki’s assistant and in the levelling at Western Lapland, became later a long-time director of the Geodetic Institute. During his period in 1977–1998, the staff of the institute increased from 14 to 50 people. In 1986, the tasks were expanded to cover the field of cartography. In addition, the international role of Metsähovi Research Station and the entire organization was strengthened and co-operation was initiated e.g. with the National Land Survey of China and the Wuhan University.

In the beginning of the new millennium, the Geodetic Institute expanded its expertise when the department of navigation was established. The name of the Geodetic Institute did not describe everything that was done in the house but the internationally well-known name was not changed. Names of departments were changed, for example, geoinformatics was added to the name of department of cartography and remote sensing to photogrammetry.

Laser scanning reveals terrain details on centimetre level. The digital terrain model based on airborne laser scanning is available from the whole territory of Finland.
Laser scanning reveals terrain details on centimetre level. The digital terrain model based on airborne laser scanning is available from the whole territory of Finland.

During the period from 1998 to 2011, Risto Kuittinen (b. 1946) expanded the funding base and the number of staff was further increased. The development has continued during the period of Jarkko Koskinen (b. 1968) since 2011. At the end of 2014, the Geodetic Institute was abolished, and since the beginning of 2015 it has continued its work as the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute, FGI, of the National Land Survey of Finland without major changes to its internal structure and tasks.

 

 

 

If you are interested in the 100-year book of the Finnish Geodetic Institute, please contact our Communication Services: viestinta@nls.fi.

More information

Director, Professor Markku Poutanen, firstname.lastname@nls.fi.

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