map of Essex County with colours indicating risk of flood hazardsTo indicate the risk of flood hazards across Windsor-Essex neighbourhoods, the app maps both the frequency of flooding and social vulnerability.

Geospatial data analyst creates tool to raise awareness of extreme heat and flooding in the region

With temperatures rising across Windsor-Essex County this week, Leddy Library’s geospatial data analyst, Carina Luo, designed a web application to raise awareness about climatic hazards in the area, particularly flooding and extreme heat.

After completing research about climate trends in the region, Luo found that Windsor-Essex holds the record for the greatest number of annual heat waves in Ontario between 1971 and 2000. In addition, inland floods have also been a consistent problem for the region, with significant flooding events occurring in 2016, 2017, and 2020.

Luo, who provides geospatial services to the campus community through the Leddy Library’s Academic Data Centre, noted that there were not any recent studies or mapping application to examine the climate-related hazards in the region. As an expert in the field of geographic information systems, she used geospatial technologies and statistical methods to pull from publicly available data, including high-resolution satellite images, local floodplain maps, Canadian census of population, municipal and provincial environmental and infrastructure data to measure neighbourhood exposure to floods and extreme heat as well as hazard-specific social vulnerability indices.

Using Esri ArcGIS Experience Builder, Luo incorporated these measurements into a user-friendly web application: Windsor-Essex Climate Risk Atlas. The application enables users to view the two climatic hazards: floods and extreme heat, and provides various map layer views including neighbourhood risks to the climatic hazard and its exposure, vulnerability as well as neighbourhood socio-demographic, environmental characteristics, and proximity to services and amenities.

“Climate hazards do not affect all people equally and the risks of climatic hazards exhibit high degrees of spatial and temporal variation,” said Luo. “Most people only think about the physical exposure to a hazard; however, it also depends on the social vulnerability of the exposed population that influence their sensitivity to harm and capacity to adapt.”

GIS technologies have proven to be highly effective for performing spatial analysis, a process in which problems are examined geographically to better understand the world. They help answer important questions like where things are, how they relate, what it all means, and what actions to take.

“By mapping the hazard-specific exposure measurements and social vulnerability indices in the app you are able to identify the spatial variation of climatic hazards in the Windsor-Essex region,” said Luo. “Some neighbourhoods have higher risks of climate-related hazards due to elevated exposure and heightened social vulnerability.”

Luo hopes the application will assist public health professionals and land-use planners by providing information about the spatial distributions of highly exposed places and vulnerable populations, for prevention and intervention purposes.

“The app can highlight the social and environmental inequalities in relation to climate change and inform evidence-based decision making in allocating resources,” said Luo. “It can also help prioritize regional climate adaptation and mitigation efforts to target those most in need to improve health equity and social justice.”

In the future, Luo would like to continue improving the app by incorporating more climate data, developing new measurements to be used in analyses, and updating socio-demographic indices from the next Statistics Canada census.

View the Windsor-Essex Climate Risk Atlas application online and learn more about the study design, methodology, and application of the app.

Researchers and students can reach out to the Academic Data Centre to learn how to use GIS in their research. The library’s team of data experts at the Academic Data Centre can advise on the best approaches for finding and accessing geospatial data, using Esri ArcGIS software, creating maps and apps, and conducting spatial analysis.

—Marcie Demmans

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