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A cost effective application of remote sensing to environmental aspects of ski regions: a ski region monitoring and management information system


In the CARTESIAN project ‘low end’ (techniques suitable for average PC) and high-end visualizations (developed on powerful workstations) have been created. The low-end visualizations are made with commercially available software (World Construction Set) and are based on a Digital Elevation Model (DEM), classified Landsat images and images from the Internet. It is easy to update the ski area with new lifts, slopes, restaurants and other features. It is also possible to create a summer and a winter appearance of the ski area from the same data by adjusting the settings of ecosystem parameters. Another advantage is that it is possible to use the virtual representation of the ski area for animation purposes. It is easy to make a little flight through the skiing area, complete with sunrise, flowing streams, evolving clouds, etc. It takes about 10 days to create a nice 3D visualisation of a skiing area. The high-end visualisations are created on a workstation with special software and are based on a DEM, aerial photographs and 3D objects such as trees and buildings. The visual realism of this approach is much higher than the low-end approach. The time required to create such visualization depends very much on data availability (satellite and aerial photographs, land use information, texture library, etc.). 3D visualisations can be created from any landscape (or object), so this technique is widely applicable. The flexibility of the product allows the easy visualisation of the impact of measures. This is a powerful product for spatial planning. Both the low-end and the high-end visualization techniques are fully operational.
In order to show how the satellite data can be used within ski resort management, we decided to develop a Management Information System (MIS). A MIS is a computer system that facilitates decision-making processes by making the problem of a ski manager more transparent. The system needs spatial data to (1) present the problem. (2) To show alternative solutions and (3) Feed models needed to assess economic and environmental impacts. Furthermore a special section on 'Eco Labelling', supplying information on future developments related to sustainable tourism, is implemented. The ski area MIS integrates all the products created within the CARTESIAN project and thus provides: automatic access to a spatial GIS database containing e.g. remote sensing- and topographic information, a Management Evaluation tool based on MCA (Multi Criteria Analysis) and advanced 3D visualisation tools to provide pre recorded 3D animation’s of the ski-resorts. The MIS can be used in several ways. In the first place, as an instrument to support communication between stakeholders involved in a process dealing with (ski resort) management. Typically, the MIS can be used in a workshop, showing management options (e.g. 'choose the best Olympic site' or 'stimulate eco-tourism') and their impacts on several criteria such as environment and economic benefits. Secondly, the MIS can be used by an engineer as a stand-alone application for calculating the effects of constructing a ski lift. The MIS provides information on costs and environmental effects. Thirdly, the MIS is a clear marketing tool with 3D animations showing the resort from different viewpoints. In order to develop the MIS, we defined three case study areas each representing a particular management issue of a ski resort. -Sion: The issue in Sion (Switzerland) involved the planning of the organisation of the Olympic games of 2006. -Montafon: The issue within the ski resort Silvretta Nova (Austria) was to find a suitable location for a new ski lift. -Les Arcs: The main issue for the ski resort Les Arcs (France) was to define a vision for the future. As already can be seen from the different issues addressed within the CARTESIAN program. A MIS is suitable for virtual every issue. The transparent approach and clear presentation used makes this MIS design easy to us, very user friendly and thus successful. It has already successfully been applied on other, very difficult issues, such as international river basin management.
For the Austrian study area, a ski area design tool has been developed. This instrument enables the simple spatial planning of ski areas. Behind a graphical interface is a simple model that calculates the effects of the measures the user designs. The focus of the Austrian case study is to improve the competitiveness of the skiing area by creating new infrastructure as ski lifts and ski runs. The design tool is also developed with this purpose in mind and thus has limited use. With some modifications and additions, it is possible to use this instrument for any (simplified) spatial planning problem. At present the following measures can be taken: construction of new ski lifts and ski slopes, the placement of snow canons and changing the ski pass prices. As already mentioned the present use of the tool is fairly limited. Performing real time calculations on measures that the end-user (policy maker/planner) defines by drawing the measures on a map, is however a very powerful concept. The user can see immediately the impact of the measure on various aspects, such as socio-economy, environment and safety. A potential barrier of this instrument is that for every new problem, a new instrument (relationships, calculation model, functionality) has to be developed. The development of the functionality is however still continuing, which makes it easier in the future to assemble other design/planning tools.
Since it is not possible to conduct a natural hazards study for large regions (+/- 600 km(2) in two years, a single hazardous geomorphologic process, rock fall, has been analysed for the whole Montafon region, including the Silvretta Nova ski resort. Rock fall is a process that can be a threat for ski tourists and may affect the protective forest on mountain slopes. A model for spatial analysis of rock fall processes and patterns has been developed. The model is GIS raster based and needs as input: a Digital Elevation Model (DEM), geological data (a GIS layer with spatial distribution of rock types and other geological parameters such as surface roughness, density, and coefficient of restitution), land cover data (available from a classification of a Landsat TM satellite image of September 1998). Overview of the input and output data of the rock fall model developed for the relatively large catchments such as the Montafon region. Until present there has been no rock fall simulation model operating at this scale. It allows fairly easy analysis of (potentially) dangerous areas. This is of major importance in planning and management of mountainous regions.
The variation of snow cover is an important factor in alpine regions on fauna, flora, climate, hazards and ski tourism. Snowfall is influenced by different climatic factors and in turn the snow cover affects the climate. Therefore the spatial distribution of snow is an essential factor for climate change studies. On the other hand, demonstration of snow cover development throughout the year is of high relevance for the promotion of ski areas. This kind of information plays a crucial role in the planning of new ski runs and hotel accommodations. Conventionally, point measurements and interpolations are used to explore the snow cover. This results in a coarse spatial resolution. In contrary, remote sensing techniques allow to study the spatial distribution of snow quantitatively for larger areas with high resolution. Nowadays, new satellite sensors are acquiring data on a regular basis with spatial resolutions between 1 and 15 m. This study shows that snow cover mapping from satellite data, which is partially obscured by clouds, is possible by applying an extrapolation method by means of a Geographic Information System (GIS). In this way, snow cover can be mapped ‘under’ the clouds. Snow cover duration maps are created from a series of snow cover maps. These maps give good information on the number of days a certain area is covered with snow. The snow cover maps are also used to calculate the amount of snowmelt runoff. Snow cover duration maps from Wallis for the seasons 1985 and 1998 derived from snow cover maps. The technique used to create snow cover duration maps can also be used for other purposes (e.g. flood (depth) duration monitoring).
IKONOS is the first commercial very high-resolution satellite with a multi spectral resolution of 4 by 4m(2) in four bands. In the panchromatic mode the resolution is even 1m(2). These kinds of images form the perfect possibility to perform high detailed monitoring of processes occurring at a local scale. Furthermore, the high quality of the images and high level of detail makes them very suitable for promotion purposes of for example ski areas, forestry companies and actually the whole tourist industry. Since the launch of the IKONOS satellite was postponed several times it was not possible within the CARTESIAN project to receive IKONOS images in early stages of the project. Therefore, they have not been used for applications like change detection and hazard mapping. Instead, some high quality visualisations have been prepared for presentation and promotion purposes. In order to make use of both the high resolution of the panchromatic mode and the spectral information present in the multi-spectral bands a spectral merge was applied. This results in an image with the resolution of the panchromatic image (1 m{2}) and the colour information from the multi-spectral images. IKONOS images are already an excellent visualisation means of areas in high detail. By adding expert knowledge (i.e. classification of images), the product becomes even more powerful. The high degree of detail is what makes this product special. A potential barrier is the relative high price of the images. It is foreseen however, that the price will drop significantly as soon as other commercial satellites of comparable quality become operational.
For detailed environmental impact assessments and monitoring studies, it is essential to have up-to-date and reliable information on land cover and the changes occurring in it. For example, for studies regarding the health and amount of forest disappearing as a result of expansion of tourist industries, detailed monitoring of forest cover development over large time spans is needed. Therefore, detailed monitoring of land cover features is relevant for a wide range of environmental applications dealing with subjects like environmental protection and land degradation, but also with socio-economic related subjects like urban expansion and planning of new infrastructure. Land use maps are derived from various satellites and aerial photographs by different classification techniques. For all three studies, area land use maps have been created. In the Austrian area, the focus was on forest cover change. For the Swiss and French areas, the impact of ski tourism on soil coverage and land use has been investigated. The successful and transparent techniques can also be applied to non-skiing areas.

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