Monitoring guidance

  • Overview

    Foundations for an effective and inclusive environmental monitoring program

    Stewardship of Alberta’s environment and informed decision-making require the best available knowledge from scientific, Indigenous and community-based ways of knowing.

    The Government of Alberta conducts environmental monitoring activities under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) and various other legislation.

    Lead by the Chief Scientist, Alberta’s Environmental Science Program (AESP) provides environmental science data, information and reporting on the condition of Alberta's environment. Delivery of the AESP also utilizes the application of a multiple evidence-based approach to grow our understanding of the environment. This approach recognizes that scientific, Indigenous and community-based scientific knowledge systems are equally valid and complementary. Bringing these knowledge systems together ensures the AESP offers inclusive and holistic information for the public and environmental decision-makers.

  • Indigenous knowledge and citizen science

    Indigenous community-based monitoring and knowledge

    Alberta’s Environmental Science Program receives advice from the Indigenous Wisdom Advisory Panel on how to respectfully include Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous knowledge holders in Alberta’s monitoring, evaluation and reporting activities. This includes the documentation and sharing of Indigenous knowledge through Indigenous community-based monitoring initiatives like the Indigenous Lake Monitoring Program and the Indigenous Climate Change Observation Network.

    Citizen science

    Many Albertans already contribute data to help understand the condition of Alberta’s environment, including reporting grizzly bear sightings, listening to amphibian calls and monitoring water quality.

    To better support these efforts, the Citizen Science Principles of Good Practice were co-developed by Alberta Environment and Parks and the Miistakis Institute, with guidance and input from external organizations, researchers and practitioners. This guide offers effective practices for the appropriate application of citizen science in Alberta.

    Alberta Environment and Parks continues to connect with practitioners across Alberta to grow communities of practice and support citizen science initiatives like:

    • Lakewatch: The Alberta Lake Management Society’s citizen science program collects water quality data from 25 to 30 lakes annually.
    • GrizzTracker: an online mapping tool developed to enable Alberta’s citizens and industrial field staff to report grizzly bear sightings in the Lower Peace Region of Alberta.
    • Alberta’s volunteer amphibian monitoring program: a long-term community survey of amphibians contributing to an improved understanding of the distribution and general status of amphibians in Alberta.
    • NatureLynx: a smartphone application developed by partners at the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute to support biodiversity monitoring through public reporting of species sightings.
    • Alberta Community Bat Program: Alberta Environment and Parks has partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada’s to work with communities to monitor bat populations across the province.

    The Chief Scientist explains how these citizen science initiatives help answer questions on Alberta’s environment and contribute to data and information gaps: Advancing citizen science in Alberta.

  • Cumulative effects

    Cumulative effects are caused by the accumulation of impacts on the environment from multiple activities over time. One impact by itself may not result in environmental change, however the addition of many small impacts over time can result in larger cumulative and potentially adverse impacts to the environment.

    Monitoring change in Alberta’s environment – including air, water, plants, land, wetlands, fish, wildlife and climate – informs the assessment of cumulative effects over time and space. To determine whether observed changes are acceptable, monitoring data is compared to threshold values and, if thresholds are crossed, corrective action is taken when required. This system of monitoring, evaluating, reporting and responding to undesirable changes in environmental indicators are key elements in Alberta's environment and land use planning approach delivered through Alberta’s Land Use Framework.

    Province-wide monitoring networks collect the data required to inform the management of cumulative effects, and results are currently reported through annual status reports on air quality, water quality and water quantity. To learn more, explore the annual regional assessments describing the status of air and water indicators evaluated against management thresholds in the environmental management frameworks in the Lower Athabasca Region and South Saskatchewan Region.

    Environmental management frameworks are currently implemented for surface water quality, surface water quantity and air quality. The air quality and surface water quality frameworks are supported by monitoring data collected from provincial long-term monitoring networks.

    Alberta’s environmental monitoring programs are also evolving towards an adaptive design to improve understanding of how cumulative effects impact Alberta's environment. By critically considering site selection, sampling frequencies and relevant parameters, an adaptive design can create optimal monitoring programs for detecting environmental change.

    Alberta Environment and Parks scientists are developing and implementing adaptive monitoring programs that enhance our understanding of status, trends and changes in Alberta’s ecosystems. Networks which monitor Alberta’s air, water, plants and land, fish and wildlife, and climate are continuously undergoing review to define and focus the monitoring objectives and science questions that need to be answered to characterize cumulative effects on our environment. See 'Indigenous knowledge and citizen science' above.

    Learn more about the objectives and science questions guiding monitoring programs in Alberta’s rivers and streams.

  • Scientific standards and quality

    Alberta Environment and Parks scientific activities are built on a foundation of standardized methods and quality control processes which ensure consistency and comparability in the collection and analysis of data. This includes:

    • auditing industrial emission data to ensure compliance with industrial approvals;
    • auditing ambient air data to ensure compliance with Alberta’s Air Monitoring Directive;
    • regular assessment and calibration of field and lab monitoring instruments; and
    • adhering to ethical standards for transparent data collection, analysis and reporting.

    Alberta Environment and Parks scientists lead technical reviews and data quality assessments on an on-going basis to ensure standardized methods and protocols are implemented across the province. This continuous review and improvement of our scientific standards and processes ensures that we are providing credible information on the condition of Alberta’s environment to decision-makers. New standards and protocols are developed and employed when gaps are identified or when advances in monitoring methodologies and technologies are made.

    Standard operating procedures

    See the environmental approvals and assessment section for information.

Air

Photo of an air monitoring system.
  • About air monitoring

    The provincial air quality and deposition monitoring, evaluation and reporting program provides information to the government, stakeholders, and the public that is used to protect human health and the environment.

    Long-term air quality monitoring

    In Alberta, there is a province-wide network of permanent stations which monitor air quality 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Air quality is continuously monitored for 13 parameters at approximately 90 monitoring stations across Alberta, primarily deployed within or nearby human pop­ulation centres. Data are compared to regional, provincial and national standards and objectives to ensure the health and safety of Albertans and the environment. Information from this monitoring network informs the Air Quality Health Index, which reports current air quality results to the public.

    Long-term deposition monitoring

    Deposition of pollutants from the atmosphere to the ground is measured at 6 stations across the province. Data are used to assess atmospheric deposition to sensitive ecosystems and share information with decision-makers and stakeholders.

    Short-term monitoring

    Short-term monitoring is deployed when air quality data is needed in areas not covered by existing monitoring infrastructure. Short-term monitoring provides data to address air quality concerns from stakeholders and the public, including emergency response support during wildfire smoke events – this is the most prevalent form of air pollution in the summertime in Alberta, has known health effects, and is expected to become more severe in the future.

  • Data

    The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) reports real-time hourly air quality conditions for over 30 Albertan communities. AQHI data is available at airquality.alberta.ca/map and via the mobile app.

    The Air Data Warehouse provides hourly data from monitoring stations operated by Alberta Environment and Parks and Airshed organizations. Alberta’s deposition monitoring data is publicly available through the National Atmospheric Chemistry Database (NAtCHem).

    Summaries reporting the impact of wildfire smoke on air quality are available and updated throughout the wildfire season.

    Annually, we compare air quality against the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards:

  • Condition of the environment

    Access condition of the environment reporting to learn more about trends in key air quality indicators across Alberta.

Water

Photo of two scientists in a boat on the water
  • About water monitoring

    We work collaboratively to monitor the quality and quantity of Alberta’s water resources year-round across province-wide networks of monitoring stations. These networks provides the data required to understand baseline conditions, natural variability, and quantify cumulative effects within Alberta’s lakes, streams, rivers and groundwater. Scientists, decision makers and the public use this information to understand if Alberta’s water resources are safe for recreational, domestic and traditional use, can meet the needs of the economy, and are able to support the diversity and health of plants and animals in Alberta’s ecosystems.

  • Water quality

    Physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of our water are monitored and evaluated, including comparison to water quality guidelines to determine if management actions are required to protect our water.

    Rivers and streams

    Water quality monitoring of rivers and streams across Alberta consists of 3 programs:

    • Long-term River Network
    • Tributary River Network
    • Quality Assurance and Quality Control Program

    Long-term River Network

    The Long-term River Network is a collection of sites located in a number of Alberta’s major river systems. Water is collected monthly at over 30 stations along 13 major rivers and is analyzed for over 100 parameters at analytical laboratories. Alberta’s major rivers provide a critical supply of water for drinking, ecosystem functioning, residential uses and industrial activities.

    Tributary Monitoring Network

    Under the Tributary Monitoring Network, water is also collected and analyzed monthly at over 70 tributaries that contribute water to many of Alberta’s major rivers. Tributaries are important systems to monitor as their water quality is more directly connected to the land use and land cover within the watersheds they drain. This information improves our knowledge of source water quality in major rivers, which informs decision makers about potential risks to our rivers.

    The Tributary Monitoring Network in the North Saskatchewan River watershed was made possible through a multi-stakeholder partnership with EPCOR, the City of Edmonton and the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance. Within the Peace, Athabasca and Cold Lake oil sands regions, both major rivers and tributaries are monitored as part of the Oil Sands Monitoring Program.

    Quality Assurance and Quality Control Program

    All of our water quality data that are collected are part of the Quality Assurance and Quality Control Program. This program ensures the data collected meet the highest standards; this is done by developing and reviewing standard operating procedures, quantifying sources of uncertainty, and evaluating the performance of individual laboratories providing analytical services to our water quality programs.

    Lakes

    Data on water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and over 50 physical, chemical and biological water quality parameters is collected annually from approximately 30 lakes and reservoirs. To assess impacts of climate, near-real time data is collected from deployed monitoring buoys over the open-water season (typically June through September) for a network of sentinel lakes.

    Lake monitoring is a collaborative effort among provincial staff, the Alberta Lake Management Society’s citizen science program Lakewatch, lake stewardship groups, and Indigenous communities. Data is used to understand baseline conditions and natural variability, changing conditions over time, and the impacts of environmental stressors on water quality – for example, watershed development and invasive species.

    Groundwater

    Groundwater quality is monitored in approximately 70 wells per year, on a rotating basis, through Alberta’s Groundwater Observation Well Network (GOWN). This network monitors more than 100 parameters in both near-surface and bedrock aquifers ranging from a few meters below the ground surface to greater than 100m depth. Within the Peace, Athabasca and Cold Lake oil sands regions, groundwater quality is monitored as part of the Oil Sands Monitoring Program.

  • Water quantity

    Rivers and streams

    Water quantity in Alberta’s rivers and streams is monitored in partnership with the Water Survey of Canada at a network of over 400 hydrometric stations which provide continuous and near real-time information on water level and flow. The water quantity-monitoring network on rivers and streams includes stations that operate annually and those that operate seasonally (April to October).

    Lakes

    In partnership with the Water Survey of Canada, water levels at over 60 lakes and reservoirs are monitored continuously and data are transmitted in near real-time. In addition, provincial staff and citizen scientists (Lake Level Observers) manually monitor water level 3 times per year or more frequently in more than 200 lakes and reservoirs annually.

    Groundwater

    Groundwater levels are monitored hourly at more than 300 wells in the GOWN using digital water level loggers. Near real-time information on groundwater levels is available for approximately 50 of these wells.

    Snow pack

    Snow pack data is actively collected from over 100 alpine and plains sites as part of the Provincial Snow Survey Network. This includes a network of snow pillows reporting continuous snowpack data year-round, and a network of snow survey sites where snow depth is measured at monthly intervals throughout the winter and/or spring.

  • Data

    Water quality data

    Surface water quality data are available for rivers, lakes and reservoirs or can be accessed by contacting:
    Email: [email protected]

    Groundwater data are available by contacting:
    Email: [email protected]

    Water quality data from the oil sands region are available through the Oil Sands Monitoring Data Portal.

    Water quantity data

    The Alberta River Basins tool and the Water Survey of Canada provide access to near-real time water quantity data from rivers, lakes, precipitation and snow pack.

    Groundwater level data from monitoring wells are available on the Groundwater Observation Well Network website and Alberta River Basins tool.

    Water quantity data from the oil sands region are available through the Oil Sands Monitoring Data Portal.

  • Condition of the environment

    Access condition of the environment reporting to learn more about trends in key water quantity and quality indicators across Alberta.

Plants, land and wetlands

Photo of yellow and green leaved trees against a blue sky
  • About plant, land and wetlands monitoring

    Alberta Environment and Parks partners with universities, non-profit organizations, Indigenous communities and individuals to collect information on Alberta’s land, wetlands and their associated plant communities. This information provides data and information on landscape change, ecological disturbance and recovery across Alberta. Decision-makers in government, industry and the public rely on this information to make more informed decisions regarding natural resource management in Alberta.

  • Landscape

    To inform landscape management decisions, we deliver field-monitoring across Alberta that collects information on the distribution of key plant and soil parameters. We also apply remote sensing data to gather information on a range of landscape parameters at large scales.

    Data on the distribution of tracked plants, lichens and fungi are available through the Alberta Conservation Information Management System, including the occurrence of rare plant species. Additional information on vegetation and soils is available through Alberta’s Ecological Information System.

    Geospatial data for a variety of landscape parameters can be accessed through the GeoDiscover Alberta portal.

  • Disturbance

    We collect information on changes to Alberta’s landscape caused by natural and human disturbances. Wildfire is one common natural disturbance which is monitored annually and reported through maps, publications and historical data.

    We also track the presence of invasive and pest species and diseases harmful to Alberta’s forests, including aspen defoliators, mountain pine beetle, spruce beetle and spruce budworm. Results of these surveys are reported in forest health reports.

    Additional information on the extent of human footprint on Alberta’s landscape and the distribution of tracked plant species are also available from the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute.

  • Additional resources

    Under the ‘Monitoring guidance > Cumulative effects monitoring’ section above, find out how cumulative effects are tracked and measured across Alberta, and adaptive monitoring systems are applied, to improve our ability to respond to these cumulative effects on Alberta’s environment.

  • Condition of the environment

    Access condition of the environment reporting to learn about the assessment of indicators that communicate the health and integrity of Alberta’s plants, land and wetlands.

Fish and wildlife

Photo of two scientists testing stream water
  • About fish and wildlife monitoring

    Alberta Environment and Parks works with partners to monitor and evaluate the abundance and distribution of fish, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates in Alberta. The information generated is shared with Albertans and decision-makers to enhance awareness in support of delivering effective management activities, including areas like species at risk, invasive species and fish and wildlife diseases.

  • Fish and wildlife distribution

    Environment and Parks working with a variety of partners collects and reports information on the distribution of fish and wildlife in numerous ways.

    The Fisheries and Wildlife Management Information System is Alberta’s centralized repository where government, industry and the public can store and access fish and wildlife data. Information in this repository can also be viewed in a map-based portal through the Fish and Wildlife Internet Mapping Tool.

    We monitor fish stocks across Alberta and report results using various methods including the Fish Sustainability Index and Fall Index Netting summaries. Metrics of fish population integrity, productive habitat and threats to fish species are reported through annual summaries, historical summaries, and maps for all fish species monitored.

    Aerial Wildlife Survey Reports provide data on population size, distribution, trends and herd composition of ungulates in Alberta including bighorn sheep, bison, caribou, elk, moose, mountain goats, mule and white-tailed deer, and pronghorn antelope.

    Invertebrate species are foundational to many food webs, and data on the distribution of select species are available through the Alberta Conservation Information Management System.

  • Species at risk

    Using information on the distribution and abundance of wildlife species, Alberta Environment and Parks tracks the status of species at risk in Alberta. Species at risk data are available for amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles.

    Alberta Environment and Parks also contributes fish and wildlife information to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council for additional reporting on species at risk through the General Status of Species in Canada series of reports.

  • Invasive species

    Alberta’s invasive species programs focus on the identification, prevention and mitigation of non-native species that threaten Alberta’s ecosystems. This includes the Aquatic Invasive Species Monitoring Program that monitors Alberta's streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs for invasive fish, plants, invertebrates and diseases. Browse maps showing the extent of some of these aquatic invasive species.

    Alberta Environment and Parks is also working with partners across Alberta’s scientific community to collect information on invasive species and the presence of disease harmful to wildlife, including whirling diseasechronic wasting disease and respiratory disease in bighorn sheep.

  • Additional data

    Additional geospatial data for select wildlife can be accessed through the GeoDiscover Alberta portal.

    Data on distribution and abundance of key wildlife species is also available from the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute – a partner in the delivery of Alberta’s Environmental Science Program.

  • Get involved

    Explore our ‘Monitoring guidance: Indigenous knowledge and citizen science’ section above to lean how you can get involved in a variety of citizen science programs related to fish and wildlife in Alberta.

  • Condition of the environment

    Access condition of the environment reporting to learn about the assessment of indicators that communicate the condition of Alberta’s fish and wildlife.

Climate

Image of wheat blowing against a grey cloudy sky
  • About climate monitoring

    Climate can affect long-term changes in temperature and precipitation, as well as increased frequency and severity of weather events such as droughts, floods, forest fires, and severe storms.

    The Government of Alberta works with partners to better understand the impacts of our changing environment in key areas including:

    Biodiversity and ecosystem services:

    • the current level, mix and geographic distribution of biodiversity, such as Alberta’s native species and ecosystems
    • various ecosystem services and benefits, including clean water, crop pollination and recreational opportunities

    Extreme weather events:

    • droughts
    • forest fires
    • heavy precipitation with associated increased risk of flooding
    • individual severe storms

    Forestry:

    • continued mountain pine beetle infestations
    • grasslands displacing existing forest ecosystems
    • greater incidence of forest fires

    Water resources:

    • loss of water stored as ice and snow will affect the timing and level of water flows in major river basins
    • lower summer stream flows, falling lake levels, and retreating glaciers
    • net result of less surface water and soil moisture, as well as greater variations in soil moisture from season-to-season and year-to-year
  • Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER)

    The Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Regulation guides industry on Alberta’s approach to reducing emissions from large industrial emitters. This includes monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions through various methodologies, standards and procedures.

  • Condition of the environment

    Access condition of the environment reporting to learn more about trends in key climate indicators across Alberta.

Oil sands

Photo of oil sands
  • About monitoring in the oil sands region

    Natural resource development has increased significantly in the oil sands region of northern Alberta, escalating the need to assess and understand the long-term cumulative effects of oil sands development on the environment. The Oil Sands Monitoring Program is a joint provincial and federal working partnership.

Contact Alberta's Environmental Science Program or the Office of the Chief Scientist:

Email: [email protected]

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