The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan


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Geomatics is the application of digital technologies to solve spatial problems. In-car navigation systems, precision Farming, and satellite imaging are all examples of geomatics applications. Geomatics encompasses three closely related disciplines: geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), and remote sensing systems. A GIS lies at the heart of many geomatics functions. GISs can be used to discern spatial relationships among different map data: for example, between urban population density and income, or between variation in precipitation and diversity among vegetation communities. Maps are among the primary data sources for, and products of, a GIS. When new maps need to be created for inaccessible areas or when up-to-date information is needed about a region, images of the Earth from space can be invaluable. Remote sensing is the acquisition and processing of data about the Earth obtained at a distance; most remote sensing is in the form of satellite images, but it can also include techniques such as airborne aeromagnetic or ground-based seismic surveys.

A GPS is a tool that can tell you exactly where you are on the Earth. GPS coordinates are most useful when they are used in conjunction with a GIS. For example, a GPS reading can be used to ask, “I am here now; which way should I go next?” or for putting new information into a map database, as in “I made the observation at this location.” Location is the glue that binds these components together: everything analyzed or interpreted by geomatics is identified (in part) by its locational coordinates (e.g., latitude and longitude).

Saskatchewan is showing leadership in geomatics by integrating its information flow from top to bottom: from corporate objectives to public data sharing. The centrepiece for the government’s initiatives is the Information Services Corporation of Saskatchewan (ISC). This provincial Crown corporation is home to one of the most advanced land registry systems in North America. ISC’s LAND (Land Titles Automated Network Delivery) system can handle a title change instantly—a huge improvement over traditional methods. The LAND system is a specialized GIS with digital cadastral maps for every property in the province. In addition to land registry, ISC maintains and distributes all of Saskatchewan’s mapping, surveys, aerial photos, and GIS data. Other provincial agencies, such as Saskatchewan Environment, SaskPower and SaskTel, as well as many municipalities, use geomatics for managing land and water resources, planning new routes for power and telephone lines, and for urban planning. The province’s emergency response service is endowed with a GIS database that has information about every highway and farm access lane in the province.

Saskatchewan’s private sector, particularly resource-based industries, also use geomatics technologies. A GIS is at the core of decision support systems used by forestry companies for silviculture management. It allows the companies to determine which tree stands in their inventory will produce the best harvest in one, five, or ten years, based not only on projected timber volumes, but also incorporating other environmental and economic factors. Many other organizations use geomatics as the basis for their corporate facilities mapping. The oil and gas industry uses geospatial data for exploration, inventory, and pipeline route planning. Environmentalists also use geomatics. For example, a GIS can be asked to highlight the most environmentally sensitive areas on the basis of a weighted combination of Geology, Hydrology, soils, vegetation, landform, and land ownership of an area.

Precision farming is an innovative application of geomatics that is beneficial to one of Saskatchewan’s largest economic sectors: cropland agriculture. Precision farming combines remote sensing imagery with other map and GPS information, and is processed in a specialized GIS mounted in a tractor; as the tractor travels across a cultivated field, its precise location is obtained from an on-board GPS. A recent remotely sensed image is automatically referenced to determine current crop health. The GIS compares the current crop information with the previous year’s crop yields and other data (e.g., soil types) to create a prescription for the type (e.g, fertilizer or pesticide) and quantity of inputs that should be applied to the field at that point. The task is fulfilled by the variable-rate applicators that are attached to the tractor. Precision agriculture saves the farm operator money since the chemical inputs are only applied at a variable rate where they are needed, instead of a fixed amount everywhere across the field. It benefits the environment by reducing the amount of chemicals artificially introduced into the ecosystem.

In Saskatchewan, geomatics training and research falls within the domain of higher-Education institutions. The Saskatchewan Institute for Applied Science and Technology (Siast) offers GIS training for resource management at its Woodland Campus. The Geography departments at both the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan have geomatics education and research specializations.

Joe Piwowar

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