The consulting firm in Prince George uses satellite imagery to monitor and explain climatic events
Back in 2010, most cellphones had GPS. Now they all have it. According to Will Cadell, founder and CEO of geospatial consulting firm Sparkgeo, we’re talking about seven billion devices collecting geospatial data every day, and that’s on top of all the satellites in orbit.
“A whole bunch of what we call ‘complimentary assets’ have emerged to make geospatial an incredibly important place to do business,” says Cadell, who grew up in Scotland and graduated from Aberdeen University with a degree in electronic engineering and a MSc in environmental remote sensing. He was always fascinated by the notion of putting maps on the internet, so five years after moving to Prince George in 2005 to make maps for the forestry sector, he launched Sparkgeo to harness all that complimentary data.
The 50-employee company now offers strategic advice on how businesses can leverage location, be it to create a neighborhood-based social network or to track climate change. It also builds custom software to, for example, help monitor the health of coral reefs.
Partnering with the World Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund, Sparkgeo created MERMAID (Marine Ecological Research Management AID) as a convenient way for marine scientists to share their findings. “So you have this global snapshot and a way to give scientists confidence in sharing,” Cadell says. “But it’s also a really convenient way for them to capture data in an online/offline environment, because these guys are floating around in the sea trying to do their data capture projects.”
Satellite imagery and geographical data can also help explain chains of events such as B.C.’s recent floods and wildfires. “We had this string of seemingly linked climatic events,” Cadell notes. “We had the heat last year and a bunch of fires, then we had the atmospheric river, and then we had a bunch of landslides and flooding. So we put a mapping product together to show how they’re linked.”
Sparkgeo. Founder and CEO Will Cadell
Post-fire and -flood imagery can explain things better than text, he maintains. “Climate change is really visceral when you start telling stories about it using geography because you can see how these things join together.”
Data sharing is the bread and butter of Sparkgeo, according to its CEO, who thinks being a remote company makes it all possible. “It’s funny, because I often describe ourselves as the least contentious pipeline in B.C.,” he says. “Almost all our work is in the cloud, so we build these pipelines of data coming from satellites through various ‘cloud filters,’ and it involves extracting data from imagery and then presenting it in some kind of user interface or data storage mechanism.”
With tech-centric clients everywhere from Silicon Valley to Europe, the company has branched out to the U.K. Sparkgeo recently set up a team in London to look into spatial finance, which considers how the corporate and financial sectors understand landscape change and human activity, with a focus on ESG and climate change.
“As a geospatial tech guy, I’m pretty sure I can’t solve climate change,” Cadell says. “But I can help others measure and monitor it so they understand risks, and we can conceivably monitor different management techniques and understand policy changes.”