Environment Canada visits on GIS Day

Technological applications of a down-to-earth minor

The GIS (geographic information system) department held an exhibition on Sackville’s geography on Wed, Nov. 15. Matt Mahoney, a landscape analyst from the Sackville branch of Environment Canada, joined faculty members to speak to the recent population decline in at-risk species in our area. The event was meant to promote interest in GIS courses and to remind us how precious the land we call our home is.

Mahoney spoke about his job here in Sackville, especially the growing data-collection aspect of his work. Environment Canada concentrates on recording species populations and conditions in our area. “It’s our job to deliver this data to the public,” said Mahoney.

Sackville sits on one of New Brunswick’s most beautiful landmarks, Waterfowl Park. This park is a home to not only interested biology students and pedestrians looking for a calm place to walk, but to many of Canada’s most interesting and at-risk bird species. Mahoney’s main job is cataloguing and recording this area’s migratory bird species. He says that Environment Canada is working hard to protect more and more of Canada’s land through legislature – their goal is that 17 per cent of New Brunswick’s land will be protected by 2020. A big part the work that researchers do is collect data on these species, evaluating the conditions that are effecting them and publishing these data for other researchers to apply to their own land. “We often don’t do a great job of this,” said Mahoney, “but now we have tools to get this data out the door.” Currently, NB is not on track to meet the 17 per cent mark, as only five per cent of the province’s land mass is protected or conserved.

Louis Sobol/Argosy

Another part of Mahoney’s job is mapping these protected lands. Some species that are effected by changing weather conditions require more attention. Publishing reliable maps that reflect changing ecosystems, as well as accurate catalogues of their inhabitants can help people brace protected lands for changes of their own. The population of the piping plover, one of New Brunswick’s most iconic birds, has been declining recently. Their native habitat is oceanfront beach, which can be difficult to protect, as much of New Brunswick’s beachfront is privately owned. Lately, however, swells have been pushing rocks and sand up over dunes, creating more area for the piping plover to call home. This situation is being documented and shared so that other piping plover habitats can benefit. “We used to just protect the beach, but that is no longer good enough,” said Mahoney. “Developing ways to share this data is keeping this country going.”

There was a hands-on segment presented by social science research technician Christina Tardif. A virtual mapping software was shown to the group. Each person was given access to a pre-mapped doomsday version of Sackville. Tardif had put together a map of Sackville after a 10-metre flood; Bridge Street was obliterated and most of Main was gone. She went on to show the movement of the water by administering different filters to highlight the damage and said that the software was used to display data in layman’s terms, as much of the collected data is made easily accessible to the public.

Jobs in the GIS field are certainly intriguing. Mount Allison offers GIS as a minor with two courses: an introductory class and an advanced class. These classes, along with computer science, geography and a few other courses would earn what Mt. A professor and GIS Day leader Dr. David Lieske calls “a really good overview for GIS. If you are a student and can combine this with a summer job, or as a research assistant, you come out of your undergrad with an excellent background.” Environment Canada sponsors a handful of students to help with research and data collection, according to Mahoney. “Don’t feel you have to do years and years beyond [Mt. A].… Joe Gothrow, for instance, has come out of these GIS classes and ended up doing graduate work at the University of British Columbia studying hydrodynamics.” Mahoney, Lieske and Tardif, seem incredibly proud of their field and are intent on showing what an interesting and practical subject it can be.

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