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App of the Month: Climate Atlas of Canada

One of the beautiful things about mapping and GIS is its ability to take an abstract concept, something we may not see or feel, and turn it into something tangible. Take climate change, for example. It can be hard to visualize a global increase in temperatures when you look out the window of your office and see piles of snow and patches of ice. Using its visual and analytical power, GIS can create a way to see, interact and understand the change we are experiencing within numerous aspects of our climate in Canada. The Prairie Climate Centre, based at the University of Winnipeg, attempts to bridge this gap in understanding with our April App of the Month, the Climate Atlas of Canada.

While March heralds the arrival of spring, most Canadians recognize April as the month when temperature can really pick up and drag us out of the grey snowy days of winter. We anticipate the month of April with bated breath to shed the jackets and throw on the shorts. However, in the future, our knowledge of the acceptable shorts-wearing season may change significantly. Climate change is a big topic, and organizing it into one, easy-to-use application is a massive challenge. But the Prairie Climate Centre has developed a web mapping application that has managed to do just that.

The Climate Atlas of Canada is an interactive tool for citizens, researchers, businesses, and community and political leaders to learn about climate change in Canada. It combines climate science, mapping and storytelling to bring the global issue of climate change closer to home, and is designed to inspire local, regional, and national action and solutions. The Atlas is one of the only tools in the world that integrates interactive web design with climatology, cinema and cartography to connect scientific data with personal experience in compelling and easy-to-use ways.

As many of us in the GIS world come from environmental or geographic backgrounds, understanding and accepting facts about climate change is second nature. However, being such a global issue, it can be tough to see how climate change is affecting us at any given moment. It takes a lot to convey that message, and our App of the Month really does a great job including a vast amount of relevant data, while still looking great and being easy to use.

For example, this app holds over 300 map services, yet only requires 3 simple steps in its help section to get started! Dozens of parameters and permutations are included to make up the variations in map services, yet it is easy to find just what you want to see. This data-heavy app is made possible by using ArcGIS Server. The map services stored in Server are then displayed using the JavaScript-based web mapping library Leaflet, which integrates with the Esri Leaflet set of tools. The result is astonishing. A good-looking, information-filled mapping application that serves to educate on climate change.

Clicking on one of the grid squares, you can see specifics for how climate change can affect this area. This shows Kenora, Ontario’s projected change in the number of +30 ° C days.

The map is dynamic and interactive, allowing you to not only see the climate we have now, but also look into the recent past as well as the future. The app allows you to look as far ahead as 2095! The app uses climate model projections and historical climate data to describe what the climate in Canada is likely to look, given user-selected options such as different time periods and emissions scenarios that affect the magnitude of climate change. You can also explore different factors of our climate across the country. Hot Weather, Cold Weather, Temperature, Precipitation and Growing Season categories are all provided and hold a multitude of parameters within them. The heat maps are easy to read and understand and give a clear look into the differences in climate across our vast country. Click on one of the grid squares, and you’ll get a popup with specific data for that location.

With over 300 maps and parameters available to peruse, and data available for individual areas, you might be wondering how much more can really be packed into this app. Climate Atlas of Canada also has its own YouTube channel, and locations across the map that are symbolized with play buttons have popups that include videos about climate and the environment in the location. It’s a super slick setup and the videos are embedded in a way that you don’t have to leave the map web page or open a new YouTube tab.

The app is jam-packed with media content, including YouTube videos for certain locations.

“Our goal was to create a groundbreaking tool that would make climate projection data available and meaningful to Canadians from all walks of life,” says Steve McCullough, lead web developer and managing editor for the Climate Atlas. “It was definitely challenging but rewarding.”

Previously only available to technical experts, this level of climate data is now available to the public. “Farmers, planners, landscape architects and even teachers have told us that the atlas is a helpful, educational and useful project,” notes Steve. “It has been extremely gratifying.”

So, what’s the forecast for Prairie Climate Centre and their Climate Atlas of Canada? New content on the impacts of climate change are ahead, along with ongoing improvements and a major update of the climate model data that drives the site. It may seem a lot of work, but it will offer users many new features and tools and make this application even better.

Explore the Climate Atlas of Canada and share your comments below.