Implications of a Dynamic Datum

FrontierSI, in partnership with NSW Spatial Services and ICSM, undertook research to identify the implications of a dynamic datum on the cadastre.


Australia is scheduled to adopt a dynamic datum by the end of this decade. The dynamic datum (also referred to as the Australian Terrestrial Reference Frame – ATRF) will form phase 2 of Australia’s Datum Modernisation (stage one is the move to GDA2020). Further details about GDA2020 can be found here.

What is a dynamic datum and why is it important?

Australia’s tectonic plate moves 7 cm per year, over time this adds up and our maps no longer match up to the Global Navigation Satellite System coordinates we receive on our digital devices. The dynamic datum will define time-based map coordinates, to allow for the plate movement, meaning it will create and work with time-tagged coordinates. And, everything will match. However, new processes and tools to collect, manage, integrate and disseminate spatial information will be required. Associated technical and procedural challenges represent major barriers to efficient and wholesale adoption of the new datum. We found the broader spatial sector expressing concerns about the potential cost of adopting a new datum and the lack of commercial off-the-shelf software able to support a dynamic datum. There are also highly varying levels of understanding across industry regarding the technical elements of datum and reference system implementation, further discussion of this point can be found in “Stakeholder Requirements for Modernising Australia’s Geocentric Datum – CRCSI July 2015.”

The digital representation of the cadastre is inarguably one of the most critical layers of spatial information held and managed by any jurisdiction. Huge volumes of other spatial and non-spatial information are directly linked to and affected by changes to the cadastral fabric. Managing the cadastre in the context of the new dynamic datum poses a substantial and pressing priority for land agencies across Australia and New Zealand.

While the project scope was focussed on the NSW Cadastre, there are two underlying assumptions.

  1. The findings for the cadastre can be extended into other foundation datasets; and
  2. The findings for New South Wales can be largely aligned with findings from other jurisdictions.

The project’s objectives were to:

  • document how the cadastre in NSW will be affected by adoption of a dynamic datum.
  • establish and prioritise what tasks need to be undertaken to transition the cadastre in NSW to the dynamic datum; and
  • identify what new procedures and tools will be required for the on-going management of the cadastre once the dynamic datum has been adopted.

Summary of the project’s conclusions:

  • “Do Nothing” is not an option as users in selected sectors will be impacted from 2023 onwards;
  • There is an urgency to improve the spatial accuracy of digital cadastral databases so that they can be relevant to a dynamic datum;
  • Implementation will encompass more than just technology, and will have to include education, awareness, and leadership;
  • Implementation will require national and international coordination; and
  • The time to start implementation is now.

This project brought together experts from:


Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping (ICSM)

NSW Spatial Services, Department of Finance, Services & Innovation

Mercury Project Solutions