Open data leads to environmental innovation

Last week, the government launched the Open Data Portal to provide the public with access to more raw data. In today’s digital landscape, data is a powerful resource that can spur innovation and improve decision-making.

As we celebrate Environment Week, we’d like to share an example of how sharing data positions Alberta to become a leader in environmental innovation, stewardship and development.

Since 2008, we’ve used LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology to map 14.2 million hectares of wet areas across the province as part of a research project with the University of New Brunswick.

LiDAR produces functional, high-resolution GIS data sets of water and soil features with amazing accuracy.

Photo_ForestWetland_FtMcMurray_smallBy using the technology, we can identify soils and wet areas that are sensitive to disturbance and small water channels that are missed by traditional mapping methods.

This mapping data was released to the public in January. Since then, it’s been used by 23 forest and energy companies and 14 consulting companies to inform their planning and operation decisions.

Albertans now have access to some of the most comprehensive and detailed GIS datasets of sensitive aquatic habitats and soils within forested landscapes, of any jurisdiction in North America. Our plan is to continue mapping and have data for 24 million hectares of forested land collected by the end of 2016.

Access to this kind of information greatly enhances the environmental performance and accountability of industry and resource planners, and spurs new innovations in reclamation, growth and yield, biodiversity, site production and wildlife research. This knowledge has also led to:

  • improved road design and construction;
  • improved placement of well pads;
  • enhanced oil spill response and mitigation efforts; and
  • reduced footprint of industrial and recreational activities.

Photo of the boreal forest in northern Alberta As leaders in the use of this technology, we shared our successes at the SilviLaser Conference in Vancouver last year.

Since then, Sweden has begun wet areas mapping, and Ontario is currently testing the approach in several pilot projects.  Wet area mapping is now taught as part of the forestry technical program at NAIT.

We are also proud to announce that our wet areas mapping team, lead by Barry White, PhD RPF, has been nominated for a prestigious Emerald Award, which recognizes environmental excellence in Alberta.  We wish them all the best at the upcoming ceremony on June 6.

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