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Home arrow Articles arrow Web Services arrow Environment Canada Publishes Its Data Online with Autodesk GIS Solutions     

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Environment Canada Publishes Its Data Online with Autodesk GIS Solutions PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jake Whalen, Environment Canada   
27 October 2004
Whether they are sampling water along the Saint John River, measuring air pollutants from a Halifax factory, or monitoring harlequin duck habitat in Labrador, Environment Canada’s employees in the Atlantic Region are working hard to enhance the quality of the natural environment around them.

To meet the growing demands of Canadians seeking timely access to environmental information, they have embraced Autodesk MapGuide and Autodesk OnSite to meet their distributed GIS needs.

Getting Information to its Clients – the Canadian Public

The Department’s Environmental Information and Reporting Group first started using Autodesk MapGuide in 1999 to consolidate its data holdings, reduce redundant geospatial information requests, and make its information more accessible to its employees, partners, and the general public. “Before working with Autodesk MapGuide, our group was heavily involved in developing multimedia CD-rom products that contained stamped copies of our databases,” says Sarah Hall, who manages the Group. “These products were successful at distributing canned data, but restricted our ability to communicate our most up-to-the-minute environmental information to the public at large. Autodesk MapGuide, however, enabled us to reach more people by publishing our geospatial data online.”

At Environment Canada, previous geo-referenced data projects required the expertise of GIS specialists accustomed to working on stand-alone desktops. Those interested in accessing project data had to go to the technician’s workstation or have copies of the datasets imported into specialist GIS software on their own machines. Autodesk MapGuide, however, has enabled the Department to provide worldwide data access without cost to the internet user. Scientists and the general public can access and query information at its source – from servers maintained by the data providers themselves.

The group also chose Autodesk MapGuide over similar products in the market because of its extensive suite of user tools, quick deployment, and ease of use. “We’ve got a real eclectic group of skill sets in our division, from multi-media development to original scientific research,” says Jake Whalen, a project manager with the group. “As such, we wanted to ensure that we had a powerful GIS infrastructure that enabled our specialists in other fields to deploy cutting-edge online mapping applications. In doing so, we can develop projects together, while retaining our group’s unique and varied expertise.” The use of Autodesk MapGuide Loader, which supports the easy translation of a number of GIS formats, means group members can continue using software packages they are familiar with.

Teamwork and good organizational skills allow the group to work on several MapGuide applications simultaneously. Each project is overseen by a project lead responsible for gathering and structuring data in either SQL or Access databases before importing them into Autodesk software. While the group’s programmers use ASP and ASP.NET script to create project-specific functionality, other team members may be responsible for incorporating the mapping window into a stylized website. Many of the applications reduce duplication by accessing data layers, like land inventory base maps, from remote servers or in a centralized internal server directory.

The implementation of distributed GIS technology has drastically changed the way the group interprets and serves its data. Whereas it invested under 10% of its human resources into developing online mapping applications four years ago, today 90% of the group’s products have an Autodesk MapGuide online mapping component. “Our clients get very excited when they can query data by clicking and dragging a mouse over a computer-generated map. Years of field data make so much more sense when it can be seen this way,” notes Todd Smith, a group member who manages a forestry project north of Halifax.

From Tracking Storms to Monitoring Water Quality

The Environmental Information and Reporting Group is developing a range of GIS solutions that employ Autodesk MapGuide software, including: an international Marine ID project that maps changes in the distribution of invasive marine species from the coast of Maine to the shores of Cape Breton; a storm inventory site that will serve maps displaying a hundred years of storm-tracking information for all of North America; and, a climate change mapping application that provides historical and climate change prediction scenarios for Atlantic Canada until the year 2080. A web-based mapping application is also being built that will link federal and provincial hydrometric data from over a hundred sampling stations across Newfoundland and Labrador, providing on-the-fly water quality summary reports to its users.
The team has moved towards incorporating the use of hand-held technologies in its fieldwork as well. It is developing in partnership with AG Research Associates of Sydney, Nova Scotia, an emergency response system that will track the effects of oil spills on birds at sea. Biologists and community-based volunteers will be able to conduct beech sweeps armed with a hand-held device outfitted with a Global Positioning System (GPS) and Autodesk OnSite software. They will  be able to download relevant maps “on-the-fly” from a data warehouse and enter their observations using a data-entry form accessed on the hand-held. Data will be instantly submitted to the data warehouse, stored in the appropriate database, and instantaneously presented online using the Autodesk MapGuide interface. This technology will enable a two-way transfer of knowledge between Environment Canada and the citizens it serves.

Autodesk values collaboration with clients like Environment Canada to ensure it meets the needs of its customers, whether they are private industry or governmental bodies. The group at Environment Canada has worked closely with Autodesk testing its developmental GIS products, such as the recently-released WMS Extension for MapGuide 6.3. WMS Extension 1.1 enables the deployment of quicker and faster mapping applications without the need for a viewer-plug-in. It adheres to Open-GIS-Consortium specifications, thereby enabling the transfer of standardized and interoperable data across operating platforms and software packages.

With Autodesk Infrastructure Solutions, the Environmental Information and Reporting Group at Environment Canada is committed to providing raw and interpreted environmental data to all Canadians.

Photo Credit: Shawn Sullivan

This article has been provided for exclusive publication to GISuser. Reproduction or retransmission is prohibited - (c) Autodesk 2004.

Last Updated ( 29 October 2004 )
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