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App of the Month: Alberta's Bio-Resource Information Management System (BRIMS)

As your organization’s collected data begins to grow, thinking of ways to share and leverage these datasets can be tricky. You’ll want it to be conveniently accessible and user-friendly, and you also need to ensure that your GIS platform can perform well especially when processing large datasets. For February’s App of the Month, let’s take a look at how Silvacom and Alberta Innovates came together to build a one-stop app for the province’s biomass, ecosystem services and land-use data.

Oh February, the temperature is getting colder and the weather is getting grayer; as I stare out the window, I can’t help but reflect. As I start this blog entry, I think back to the time when I was a student learning how to write a paper, going through many scientific journals to help build my thesis and prove my point to the professor. I can’t help but realize I had it easy when I was rushing to finish my paper because through my school network, I could access a repository of journal articles for free! Now that I’m no longer a student, I struggle to access these materials for free. Did I just spend the first couple of sentences ranting about adulting being difficult for no reason? Of course not! This ties closely with February’s App of the Month, the Bio-Resource Information Management System (BRIMS). This application is THE repository of biomass information in Alberta.

Having one location where data can be freely accessed is not only helpful for people like me rushing to finish their research paper, it also helps the community to stay informed, discover new opportunities and connect with their surroundings. BRIMS—assembled by Alberta Innovates, a provincially funded corporation, and Silvacom, an Edmonton-based environmental consulting firm—was built so that there’s a public repository for all of Alberta’s bio-resource information. Launched a little over a year ago, this application supports investors, resource managers and other decision-makers who conduct, plan, analyze and implement projects and policies in the province.

When I saw this application, my first impression was, “Wow! That’s a lot of layers. Look at all that valuable information!” I proceeded to turn the layers on and off to see the map’s data populating in the viewer. Now this gets interesting; when I select a region of interest—in the case of the screenshot below, I selected Lower Peace region—you can see the Scenario 1 panel gets populated with numbers. While I am no scientist, I can imagine the carbon storage and biodiversity intactness index data, etc. are important when it comes to evaluating the resource for an area. Aside from numerical data, charts are also provided to visualize the distribution of biomass of a particular category.

Notice the different types of information displayed by BRIMS. There’s a table of contents on the left which alters the visualization of the map. On the right, there’s a scenario panel which focuses on the biomass and ecosystem services of a region.

Do you want a printout of your analysis? Or perhaps you want the data to be exported into Excel in an organized format? With BRIMS, you can do both. Seeing the numbers is obviously helpful, and the app’s compare functionality takes figures and charts to a whole new level that allows you to compare biomass and ecosystem services between different regions.

The Scenario panel can be extended for a deeper look at a region compared with other regions.

Developers and resource analysts worked closely to build BRIMS’ interface. They customized the app using ArcGIS API for JavaScript. Behind the scene, this app is interacting with the open-source PostgreSQL database. This is possible because, with Esri’s Open Vision, users can easily extend their ArcGIS solution to other open-source applications, or database, in this case.

When asked about the feedback they’ve received on their application, Elva Kennedy from Silvacom says: “In particular, municipalities are excited about using the tool. They are using it to identify theoretical potential biomass and promote the diversification of their local economies”.

BRIMS is expected to benefit Albertans by improving economic opportunities and providing a centralized platform to access bio-resources data.

When I asked her what’s next, Elva replied that there is interest in exploring the use of ArcGIS Online as an alternative to ArcGIS Server for hosting the app. Updates are constantly in progress as BRIMS is expanding to include other types of biomass, facility locations and more ecosystem services data.  

A platform with data as rich as BRIMS’ reveals hidden opportunities and enhances decision-making. The app helps reduce investor uncertainty by answering questions related to biomass supplies. It also helps resource managers and policymakers assess and prioritize lands for conservation or development.

Overall, BRIMS is a valuable tool in sustainably advancing the bio-economy in Alberta.

I hope to see more platforms like this throughout Canada!