Alberta’s Designated River Forecasting Team

By Franco Alo, Alberta Environment and Parks

Alberta is home to the Rocky Mountains as well as some major river systems, including Alberta’s longest river, the Athabasca River, at ~1,300 km. With Alberta rivers being part of the landscape and co-existing with cities and towns, like the North Saskatchewan in Edmonton or the Peace River in Peace River, it is important to monitor these systems in order to keep Albertans safe.

Monitoring rivers in Alberta
“Alberta is unique because we have a dedicated ice team in the River Forecast Center, which means we have a team on call twenty-four seven all winter long,” says Jennifer Nafziger, River Hydraulics and Ice Engineer at Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

This team monitors Alberta’s rivers using a variety of equipment both digital (e.g., satellite imagery) and in the field (e.g., drone). Using information from a variety of sources, river forecasters are able to run computer models that can help predict the behavior of rivers due to a heavy rainfall or river ice jam flooding.

With the information gathered and processed in near real-time, it can then be used to inform emergency managers about potential flooding events that may affect a nearby community. Emergency managers play a critical role, making decisions and taking action to mitigate any catastrophic risk to Albertans and their property as a result of a predicted flooding event.

Despite all the science and modern technological advancements today, the biggest challenge with river ice forecasting remains how quickly river ice conditions can change.  

The River Ice Forecasting team send their drone into the air to monitor the movement of ice in the Athabasca River, by Fort McMurray.

How technology has changed the face of river ice forecasting over time
Back when river ice forecasting was a new science, there were no remote gauges, remote cameras, satellite imagery or drones. There were people and paper maps.

It was common to have a cabin upstream of a major river, like the Athabasca, with a person stationed there watching the ice melt. This could last for up to a month, and the specialists observations became the data that was assessed. You can imagine on a cold winter day how that must have felt!

Today, monitoring rivers can be performed more comfortably. It still requires on the ground operations to install technology like remote gauges, and flying a drone to better understand how ice is moving in real time or how a major rainfall is affecting river discharge. Complimentary to the ground operations, river ice forecasters back in their offices use this information to get a better sense of the changes in river movements and patterns.

It is the combination of information acquired from the ground and through digital means that has grown river ice forecasting into the sophisticated machine it is today. One which relies on the expertise of many people: river forecasters, monitoring network service providers, data facilitators and the river hazard team.

April 21, 2022. The AEP River Ice Forecasting team deploy a drone to monitor ice build up by a bridge in Fort McMurray.

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Six Principles to Advance Citizen Science across Alberta

By Justine Kummer and Jeannine Goehing, Alberta Environment and Parks

From reporting grizzly bear sightings to listening to amphibian calls and assessing water quality, many Albertans are engaged in scientific research and monitoring across the province. Through citizen science, Albertans have the opportunity to help answer questions on Alberta’s environment, contribute to data and information gaps, and inform decision-making.

“Citizen science offers an approach that can enhance the way scientific data and information are collected and shared, improving accessibility, transparency, and credibility in monitoring and science. As participatory science continues to grow, it is important to consider how Albertans can support it and make it more effective in the long run,” says Dr. Jonathan Thompson, Chief Scientist at Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

Bradley Peter, Executive Director at the Alberta Lake Management Society, collecting a water sample from Ethel Lake in east Alberta (photo: Alberta Lake Management Society).

Alberta’s growing network of citizen science programs
Contributing to scientific research is only one benefit of citizen science; other benefits include learning about the scientific method and process, collaborating with volunteers and scientists, and building a better understanding about Alberta’s environment. With these common elements in mind, Alberta-based organizations have developed citizen science programs such as NatureLynx, the Alberta Volunteer Amphibian Monitoring Program (AVAMP) and Wildlife Xing.

Alberta Environment and Parks is part of this growing citizen science network, recognizing the role of citizen science in addressing a growing challenge to meet environmental data and information needs. AEP supports or leads several citizen science programs in collaboration with organizations across the province covering diverse environmental topics from local to provincial scales.

LakeWatch is one example that enlists citizen scientists across the province to provide data on lake water quality. Since 1996, the Alberta Lake Management Society in collaboration with AEP, has engaged Albertans interested in collecting information about their local lakes to help fill knowledge gaps in Alberta’s lake monitoring network.

A volunteer citizen scientist collecting data while ice fishing at Spring Lake in central Alberta (photo: Alberta Lake Management Society).

Over the years, LakeWatch has created a network of engaged and informed volunteers who ask questions and learn about their local environment, often over multiple years. These citizens collect and summarize environmental data to assess long-term trends and improve the health of the environment, including development of water management plans (for example, the Pigeon Lake Watershed Management Plan 2018) and state of the aquatic ecosystem reports. Through this engagement, the LakeWatch program aims to ensure a sustainable future for healthy lakes and aquatic ecosystems.

“I encourage anyone to get involved! Citizen science can help expand your understanding, and open your eyes to the world around you,” says Bradley Peter, Executive Director at the Alberta Lake Management Society.

GrizzTracker is another example of a citizen science program that engages the public in reporting grizzly bear observations via a smartphone app, helping fill grizzly bear knowledge gaps and management needs while creating engagement and education opportunities for specific land users and the general public. To learn more about the app and the team behind it, read the GrizzTracker story on the AEP Blog.

Advancing citizen science in Alberta
To further understand the state of citizen science in Alberta and its potential in advancing environmental monitoring and science, Alberta Environment and Parks worked with the Miistakis Institute to identify and document the network of citizen science activities in Alberta, as well as challenges that must be overcome to further advance citizen science in the province.

Based on the findings of this work, the Citizen Science Principles of Good Practice were developed to provide clarity on how citizen science can provide credible data and information to Alberta’s environmental monitoring and science programs.

Together, the six principles will guide good practice in the planning and delivery of scientifically credible and relevant citizen science initiatives that seek to answer questions on environmental issues.

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