MACI Supports Collaborative Efforts of Landscape Visualization Project

A research team at the University of Alberta is pushing the envelope of geographic information systems in partnership with Elk Island National Park. The research team, led by Mr Jeff Thurston of the Renewable Resources department, is creating a 3D visualization system, supported by MACI computational resources that will allow users, ranging from scientific researchers to tourists, to “walk through” a photo-realistic tour of Elk Island Park. The park is home to many wildlife species including bison, elk, deer, small predators, rare birds and other fragile species of aboriginal plants and animals.


Mr Thurston’s research team is aiming to surpass the visual quality provided by today’s typical virtual reality fly-throughs with their coarse features and low resolutions. Thurston and his colleagues have created a topographical representation, known as a digital elevation model (DEM), based on older data from Elk Island National Park, which they are using as a prototype to work out computational and visualization techniques applied to the their new high-resolution DEM.  The ultimate goal of this project is to integrate the rich and powerful capabilities of visualization functionality, with the robust and analytical power of GIS. These research breakthroughs have also led to the innovation of new concepts in Geographical Information Systems – specifically the development of ‘Vertical GIS’. Vertical GIS is being developed to provide ecologists and other landscape researchers; a new landscape assessment method for the discovery of biodiversity indicators.

The development of a landscape visualization system of this quality will influence all levels of society. From a user perspective, one will be able to distinguish between different species of trees and animal habitat and zoom in on features of the landscape down to a resolution of one meter. From a researcher point of view, the system will be time sensitive and updateable, incorporating older aerial photographic data starting from the 1920’s allowing for various disciplines to analyze historical landscape changes. From an administrative level, this system will allow for the development of landscape management and preservation strategies, transforming future municipal, provincial and national protectionist acts.

MACI has played a major role in the success of this landscape visualization project. Future initiatives will rely heavily on continued technological support and this project’s wider applicability alone, justifies the need for prolonged technological sustainability.

Selected Publications:

        This thesis was supported in part with MACI funding and addresses the issue of Vertical GIS.
  • Thurston, J. 2001. Vertical GIS and Visualization: A Comparison of 2D and 3D. MSc. Thesis in Geographic Information Systems. Manchester University. (in press)