From vision, determination and rolling up of sleeves: eco-data now on Open Data Portal

At the end of August, the department’s rangeland management team made 65+ years of ecological data available on the Government of Alberta’s Open Data Portal.

It’s a significant step on the path toward making the data the government collects more readily available to anyone who needs it.

“The real advantage is that anyone can find the available data and access it,” says Director of Range Resource Stewardship Mike Alexander.

Previously, the ecological data we have was difficult to access from outside of the Government of Alberta, and required a good deal of staff assistance.

“Ecological research is sometimes like a fishing expedition,” says Mike, “and unfortunately in our case, staff have ended up doing a lot of the fishing.”

Today, it’s a different story. Researchers from anywhere can now simply visit the portal website to search and download datasets covering over 26,000 vegetation and soil plots throughout the province.

Mike adds that making data more accessible is not only a boon for those looking for specific information; it’s also a shot in the arm for ecological research in general. “It’s as much about being able to see what’s there as it is about being able to access it. As a researcher, seeing what’s available can help you formulate studies you might not have even considered before.”

The data collected on Alberta rangelands goes back to the 1950s – some as early as 1949 – enabling researchers to study environmental impacts and trends, using such markers as vegetation, temperature, moisture and soil constituents, over a significant period.

Since going online, the data has already seen uptake from local institutions, like the University of Alberta, and from individuals and organizations around the world.

Making the connection to the Open Data Portal is the result of dedicated work by numerous staff. Mike is also keen to acknowledge the leadership of Michael Willoughby, “who had the vision, determination and tenacity to ensure the goal was achieved.”

Along with hard work and dedication, Mike also points out that there was some fortuitous timing involved in connecting with the Open Data Portal. “We were able to take the opportunity to connect with the portal because we were already upgrading from our old database to the new ECOSYS [Ecological Site Information System],” he says. “That was a long process. Part of it was including or refining the metadata that the portal was also going to need.”