University of Calgary

Connecting data for better decision-making in the Arctic

Researchers receive $500,000 in CANARIE funding to link environmental information about the North

Sept. 4, 2014

University of Calgary researchers are launching a new online platform to connect millions of pieces of information about the North. By collecting satellite reports and scientific analysis, accounts from local residents and even photographs and artwork in one location, ArcticConnect is designed to make it easier for scientists to manage and access information about the changing conditions in the Arctic.

Steve Liang, AITF-Microsoft Industry Chair in Open Sensor Web in the Department of Geomatics Engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering, and Maribeth Murray, Executive Director of the Arctic Institute of North America and Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology, have received $500,000 from Canada's Advanced Research and Innovation Network (CANARIE) for the project.

"Scientists spend 80 per cent of time finding data and 20 per cent of time doing research," says Liang "We are trying to empower the scientist so they can focus on research instead of data crunching."

Collecting data in the North is especially challenging because of extreme conditions, vast spaces and expensive transportation costs, including helicopter and ship time. Considerable information already exist - from environmental monitoring to personal photographs of the landscape - but the data sets often are not linked and therefore can't be easily shared. Data sharing and interoperability is one of the most pressing needs in Arctic research.

"Right now when someone wants to use the data, they have to access individual information silos," says Liang. "The current system allows people to do key word searches, however that users also need to do geospatial searches as geospatial information is critical for Arctic research."

The first phase of ArcticConnect will bring geospatial capability to a webmapping platform so users can bring up a map and zoom into an area they want to search. The second phase will connect existing databases of information and the third phase will connect existing sensor networks in the Arctic.

The researchers will also develop an app for community-based environmental monitoring. As more northern peoples express interest in participating in basic science and monitoring, it's important to have a versatile, user-friendly tool. The app can be used to collection information on a host of variables - everything from northern biodiversity, to wildlife disease and even water quality.

"This innovative approach to data management and accessibility will advance the science and education that's needed for decision making in a rapidly changing Arctic," says Maribeth Murray of the Arctic Institute. "ArcticConnect will link efforts among indigenous people, the research community, the private sector and government agencies engaged in the collection and use of northern environmental data, to improve management of and adaptation to a changing Arctic."

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