Alberta Wet Area Mapping Initiative

2011 Winner: Outstanding Achievement In Environmental Technology And Innovation

Team Introduces Technology Platform To Foster Environmental Stewardship

Stewardship is the operative word that motivates Alberta’s Wet Areas Mapping (WAM) initiative.

Traditional mapping of water in landscapes results in capturing only major water bodies. But the unseen, near-surface wet areas – the water table and small water channels that can result in unexpected costs, delays or environmental damage – are not captured. WAM takes landscape data from LiDAR- (light detection and ranging) derived digital elevation models of the earth’s surface, at one metre resolution. It produces functional datasets in a geographic information system (GIS) that reveal hydrological features, with amazing accuracy.
“By mapping wet areas on the landscape at unprecedented accuracy and resolution, government and industry have a new technology platform,” says Dr. Barry White, Forest Management Specialist at Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD). “This allows us to reduce industry costs in terms of land management, it allows the Alberta government to increase efficiencies and streamline policies and practices, and it provides an innovative platform that a wide variety of disciplines can build on.” He adds that most importantly, it enhances the stewardship of Alberta forests.

Science and Technology Combined

The WAM Initiative is an innovative partnership led by Dr. White that took the hydrology science, being developed at the University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management by Professor Paul Arp and Research Associate Jae Ogilvie, and combined it with a convergence of technological capabilities.

“We used LiDAR, improved digital storage and digital computational capacity, advances in GIS, modelling and visualization to help model solutions to real-world environmental concerns for any land-based activity,” says Mr. Ogilvie.

Balancing Innovation and the Environment

ASRD faces unprecedented growth in demand for the use of Crown land and Alberta’s natural resources. To meet this demand and ensure the high quality of Alberta’s environment is sustained, the department has actively pursued innovative solutions and tools that achieve its goal of sustainability, solutions that balance economic, environmental and social concerns and maintain ecological integrity and biodiversity.

“As a science-based ministry, ASRD recognizes the need to connect the dots from good science, to good policy, to good tools to support improved business practices within government and industry,” Dr. White says. “It’s not enough for government to establish regulations, it has to enable industries as diverse as construction, forestry and energy by providing a tool so they can be better environmental stewards.”

He adds that the complexity of land use challenges in the province stimulates creativity. “Wet areas mapping has become a model of recognizing an innovation opportunity and moving good science through to a simple, robust, cost-effective application.”

Overwhelming Support

Lead scientist on the WAM team, Dr. Arp commends ASRD for facilitating the WAM initiative.

“Alberta folks in industry and government quickly realized how the high-resolution LiDAR-derived wet and dry-areas map could play a major role within the forward-looking and recently announced new land-use framework, and supported the resulting initiative whole-heartedly, professionally, and with wide-spread multi-partner support,” he says.

The WAM initiative involved successful partnerships between funding organizations, government and industry. It also benefitted from the substantial contributions of several undergraduate and graduate students who worked with the team.