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App of the Month: Eastern Charlotte Waterways Climate Data Viewer

For February’s App of the Month, we look at how Eastern Charlotte Waterways, a resource and research centre promoting environmental health in southwestern New Brunswick, built the Eastern Charlotte Waterways (ECW) Climate Data Viewer. This app makes it easy for multiple stakeholders to access and interact with in-depth climate data and help communities develop a regional response to climate change in a way that best suits their use-case.

Eastern Charlotte Waterways Inc. (ECW) is a not-for-profit, environmental resource and research centre that promotes environmental health in southwestern New Brunswick. They facilitate projects that integrate common social, economic and environmental concerns by collaborating with like-minded organizations to promote community well-being through sound environmental health.

Business Challenge

ECW collaborated with municipalities in Charlotte County, New Brunswick to develop five municipal climate adaptation plans and one regional plan for southwestern New Brunswick. This involved a large data collection effort in collaboration with multiple stakeholders including municipal staff, regional planners, public works officials, emergency response practitioners, non-profit organizations, academic institutions and community members.

As they neared the end of writing the regional climate adaptation plan, they realized that a policy-oriented document would only serve some stakeholders. That’s when they started thinking of ways on how to offer a more in-depth look at the information used to guide the plan – a “live documentation” of the data sources – as well as a platform for stakeholders to interact with the data in a way that suits their use-case. Given the vast amount of data, they needed a solution for these stakeholders and the general public to access this data in a more reliable and engaging way.

The Solution

Since the team was already using ArcGIS technology, they were aware of the various GIS tools available to them. It was just a matter of selecting the right one that would help them capture and organize different sets of data in a meaningful way. They built the Climate Data Viewer app – a central hub of important data that would otherwise be hard to access or would not be seen together – using ArcGIS Web AppBuilder.

According to Lee Penney, GIS technician at ECW, the following considerations pushed their team towards zeroing in on Web AppBuilder:

  1. No-code, flexible solution

"Web AppBuilder is a highly customizable solution that can be used by developers of all experience levels. We did not have the time nor the funds to hire an independent developer for this task, but we were able to build this app in a timely fashion with no custom coding required, which has been invaluable,” says Lee.

  1. End-to-end data management

“With the ArcGIS Online system, both our app and the data it consumes are managed through one place and the data can be uploaded right from the desktop software (ArcGIS Pro). There is little to no configuration needed between file types and structure, and there were ready-to-use solutions for some of our larger datasets, such as constructing tile packages for the high-resolution wet area maps,” Lee explains.

  1. Extensibility

“Even though we did not need custom code for this app, Esri offers the option to build a prototype through Web AppBuilder and then download the source code from there. We may use this in the future, and it’s good to know the option is there,” notes Lee.

The Data Viewer features accurate and relevant climate-related data to help inform policy, planning and decision-making in southwestern New Brunswick. Available information includes future climate scenarios, sea level rise projections, inland flood models, an infrastructure inventory and municipal greenhouse gas quantification. For example, the predicted culverts layer derived from the wet area maps, both of which were made by ECW’s academic partner Dr. Paul Arp, and the manmade/beaver dam layer compiled by the Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) First Nation are a natural complement. This is also true of the sea level rise layer and the wharves/ferry terminals layer, which came from different sources.

The Climate Data Viewer is an example of how one can effectively organize a web app containing many layers. The app uses multiple layer list widgets with custom icons to organize a large number of layers into meaningful categories.

“We actually came across this creative idea in a GeoNet forum where a user was asking about organizing web map layers into folders,” added Lee.

As part of ECW’s workflow to build the app, they first tackled the biggest challenge, which was the large amount of data contained in the 1-meter resolution wet area maps. They broke the datasets by region and used tools in ArcGIS Desktop to build and upload image tiles. From there, they digitized any information, either manually or via a geoprocessing script, which was not initially available in a geographic format. This included the sea level rise estimates and the locations of emergency shelters. Most of the other layers were used as-is. They uploaded everything to ArcGIS Online, filled in the metadata and added the layers to a web map. The map was then added to an app in Web AppBuilder, after which they designed the layer list widgets and splash screen.

Since the launch of the app, they have added the locations of hospitals and retirement homes as well as province-wide predictions for temperature and precipitation. They plan to continue adding relevant data to the Data Viewer as more are created by the organization. 

The app is very easy to use and has straightforward onboarding. Users who have never visited the app before are greeted with “how-to” instructions with screenshots via the splash screen. Given that the widget icons in the app may not be recognizable to users who are not familiar with ArcGIS apps, they combined written instructions with screenshots on the splash screen. This way, users don’t have to search for information on how to use the app and they can quickly become familiar with what each widget is for and where it is on the screen.

Benefits

Since ECW is driven by their core purpose of providing local governments the data and information they need for strong grant applications for environmental projects, the Data Viewer saves them time. Rather than sending individual files or trying to describe the extent of climate information they have available, ECW can direct callers to the app itself. For example, they use the Data Viewer to help identify potential hotspots of coastal erosion and define potential project boundaries in real-time with external partners.

It is also important to ECW that their web presence grow and remain strong. The Data Viewer has helped them showcase their organizational identity and capabilities. Since the scope of their projects has continuously expanded, they had to add additional capacity in recent years, and thus needed a way to showcase what they can do through a platform that is easy for potential funders and partners to engage with. The Data Viewer has proven to be one such showcase, and they continue to use it as a testament to the organization’s value to local communities and to the province.

“We’ve heard directly from stakeholders such as the Southwest Regional Service Commission and land surveyors in the community of St. Stephen on how useful the Data Viewer app is as it is directly used in applications such as the zoning of coastal streets and evaluating the vulnerabilities of a given parcel of land to floods. They are glad to have access to such important information easily and reliably,” concludes Lee.

See the Climate Data Viewer on the Southwestern New Brunswick Climate Change Hub

Interested in creating your own app? Explore ArcGIS Web AppBuilder

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Dimpee Shah is a Public Relations Specialist for Esri Canada. The power of geography and its ability to build ‘real connections’ fascinate her. Dimpee has a bachelor’s degree in mass media with majors in advertising and public relations. She has over 10 years of international experience in developing and executing communications campaigns to meet business objectives. Her love for performing arts has inspired her to always put her best foot forward.

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