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Visualizing climate change in Canada’s Arctic using geospatial tech

Built using ArcGIS Online, this repository of geospatial web services demonstrates helpful resources on climate change along Canada's Arctic coastline.

This blog post was co-authored by Melissa Kang.

Canada and all other countries around the world are experiencing a change in climate, which refers to long-term weather variations such as in temperature, precipitation patterns and other atmospheric conditions. However, it has been reported that Canada’s Arctic is warming at twice the average global rate. Winters are becoming milder, and there is an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves and weather events.

Coastal areas are very vulnerable to climate change, particularly due to sea level rise and storm surges. Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world and thus has extensive vulnerabilities to these changes. Warmer weather is melting sea and land ice in the Arctic, which also creates a negative impact on coastal areas in Canada’s Arctic. These compounded affects are impacting wildlife, marine life, populations and infrastructure all along Canada’s northern and Arctic coasts.

Left image: Polar bears at the Arctic ice pack edge in northern Canada. Right image: Aerial view of Cambridge Bay, NT, in spring.

Left image: Polar bears at the Arctic ice pack edge in northern Canada. Right image: Aerial view of Cambridge Bay, NT, in spring.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has long recognized the importance of investigating the effects of climate change on coastal regions. NRCan's Climate Change Geoscience Program allocated funding to develop the CanCoast data collection. This comprehensive national map meticulously documents coastal areas, their unique characteristics and their susceptibility to environmental shifts. CanCoast data is a robust openly available dataset that can be used for studying and enabling effective climate change adaptation strategies in Canada's coastal zones.

The CanCoast data layers consist of the following for all coastlines in Canada:

  1. CanCoast Marine Shoreline Version 2.0
  2. CanCoast Marine Shoreline Version 3.0
  3. CanCoast Change in Sea Level 2006-2020 Version 1.0
  4. CanCoast Change in Sea Level 2006-2099 Version 1.0
  5. CanCoast Significant Wave Height Including Sea Ice Effects 1996-2005 Version 1.0
  6. CanCoast Significant Wave Height Including Sea Ice Effects 2090-2099 Version 1.0
  7. CanCoast Ground Ice Version 1.0
  8. CanCoast Coastal Materials Version 2.0
  9. CanCoast Backshore Slope Version 5.0
  10. CanCoast Tidal Range Version 6.0
  11. Coastal Sensitivity Indices 2000s and 2090s

Esri Canada wanted to build a website for displaying web services related to climate change in Canada’s Arctic for the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Federated Marine Spatial Data Infrastructure (FMSDI) project that would showcase many of the CanCoast datasets. But the CanCoast datasets are only available through the Government of Canada open data portal as a digital file and not as a web service.

To address this issue, we downloaded the CanCoast data and published several layers for northern Canada using web services. We then used these services to make web maps that we published on the Esri Canada FMSDI public demonstration website.

This FMSDI website illustrates a complete end-to-end climate change scenario for the Canadian Arctic coast. The project website shows how geospatial data and information, as well as modern geospatial interoperability approaches, can be used in an operational context to examine Arctic coastal sensitivity to climate change.

The website leverages several other Arctic data portals to create components of a seamless multidimensional “Digital Arctic” that links the land, atmosphere and marine Arctic domains within an integrated platform. The concept of a Digital Arctic occurs over multiple dimensions of space and time. The dimensions comprise location (X, Y or other coordinates), elevation/bathymetry/altitude, time and flows to measure pathways and directions (e.g., currents, migration, icebergs, ice floes, etc.). This work relates to and builds on other emerging technologies, such as the metaverse and digital twins. 

The Digital Arctic demonstration website includes the following maps and applications:

  1. A persistent public demonstration group site on ArcGIS Online entitled “FMSDI 2023 Public Demonstration group”
  2. A bilingual FMSDI data discovery portal for finding Arctic geospatial data
  3. An Arctic coastal zone basemap showing the coastline and coastal areas, as well as topographic, hydrographic and imagery basemaps, including NRCan’s CanCoast 2.0 data.
  4. A web map showing the level of sensitivity to climate change of the entire Canadian Arctic coastline. Supporting layers include sea level change, ground ice and wave height.
  5. A web map showing locations of human dwellings and residential infrastructures in the Canadian Arctic in reference to the 12-nautical-mile coastal zone on land and in the water, as defined for this application
  6. A web map showing locations of transportation and infrastructure features in the Canadian Arctic in reference to the 12-nautical-mile coastal zone
  7. A web map showing Canada’s marine protected and conserved areas and five bioclimatic subzones based on climate and vegetation in the lowlands
  8. A coastal ecosystem sensitivity map based on selected data from the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) web services
  9. A map of Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories displaying a 3D sea level change feature layer, with the sea level increase value extruded from the average elevation of each line segment
  10. An ArcGIS StoryMaps story summarizing the project engineering report

An ArcGIS Online public group called “FMSDI 2023 Public Demonstration Site”. There are many sections of content housed within the group, including applications entitled “Arctic Coastal Zone Base Map” and “Climate Change Map”.

The project engineering report outlines lessons learned throughout this application development process, including how to discover high-quality internet data sources; how to optimize application performance and scalability; how to coherently visualize disparate data layers; and how to address web service interoperability challenges, including the integration of multisource, multiscale and multi-schema datasets.

Through this project, we’ve shown how to seamlessly incorporate geospatial data catalogues and Canadian Arctic geospatial data into a demonstration platform that is accessible by the public. By using ArcGIS StoryMaps, we’ve made the project demonstrator a GIS-based digital story into which web maps and applications are embedded. Users can interact with the web maps and view other stories without leaving the main page. Our hope is that this website, which shows the process, benefits and challenges of discovering, integrating and displaying Canadian Arctic geospatial data through interoperable web service standards, will inspire you to integrate geospatial data into your future applications.

Visit the FMSDI 2023 Public Demonstration Site to gain access to the resources described above.

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

Profile Photo of Gordon Plunkett