Olaf Schroth Research Areas

Local Climate Change Visioning

My main research area has been the application of innovative technologies, particularly GIS, landscape visualization, geovisualization and virtual globes, together with scenario and participation methods as part of landscape planning. At the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP) at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Prof. Stephen Sheppard, my colleagues and I developed and applied computer-based tools to address “wicked planning problems” such as climate change, and the implications of adaptation and mitigation measures, e.g. renewable energies, in landscape planning. We collaborated with IPCC author Steward Cohen at Environment Canada and with the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium PCIC in Victoria to integrate climate science in landscape design. A major outcome of the research was the development of the Local Climate Change Visioning (LCCV) process that integrates participation and scenario methods with climate models and visualization tools. On this basis, we prepared a guideline for municipalities on how to implement a LCCV process for the Ministry of Community and Rural Development of British Columbia and 200 copies were distributed (Pond et al. 2010).

A related research challenge has been the multiple case study of six climate related landscape planning processes across Canada in the GEOIDE Networks of Centres of Excellence (NSERC-funded) 32-IV project. The case study results provided valuable insights into processes of climate mainstreaming and response capacity building in planning. Scale was crucial for the comparison and in my findings; we recommended specific planning approaches for different scales from individual objects to the region (Pond et al., in press). On a small scale, planning and design of multifunctional green infrastructure was crucial: in the coastal case study site in Delta/Vancouver, CALP designed four different adaptation scenarios for sea-level rise and in the suburban case study site in Toronto, our research partner at the University of Toronto designed (and actually constructed) multifunctional green spaces for industrial areas that have a positive impact on urban micro climate.

For the town of Kimberley (BC), my longitudinal study using qualitative interview methods showed that at least a dozen operational changes, policy changes, and measures on the ground were informed through our previous LCCV process. The role of visualization in the communication of climate science was also a key question at the panel session “Beyond Climate Models: Rethinking How We Envision the Future with Climate Change”.

Tools: Development, Application and Evaluation of GIS and Visualization Tools for Participatory Landscape Planning

In the EU project VisuLands (2003-2006), research took place in collaboration with the Entlebuch UNESCO Biosphere in Switzerland. Our research group supported rural planning in local stakeholder forums through computer-based GIS and visualization tools. For example, we developed local 3D models of the Entlebuch area, overlain with climate projections for snowpack changes under climate change, and facilitated the workshops in which we used the interactive 3D models (Schroth 2007). Since then, I have developed, applied and tested multiple visualization and digital interactivity tools in other contexts such as the environmental impact assessment.

In my post-doctoral research, virtual globes such as Google Earth became the focus of my research because they promise rather easy accessibility – however, they also come with their own limitations as I showed in the Kimberley Climate Adaptation Project (Schroth et al. 2011). In October 2011, I initiated a meeting between several research groups and Google Outreach. The collaboration with Google Outreach provided potential for further critical research on virtual globes. In my recent research, funded by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, I applied GIS and visualization tools in landscape character assessment of different renewable energy options for BC. I believe that my research focus on participatory GIS and visualization tools will add powerful tools and methods to landscape policy and planning, landscape character assessment, and environmental impact assessment in rural areas. Hence, I would like to further explore the participatory potential of geodesign, open data, online GIS, mobile applications, and virtual globes.

Research and Evaluation Methods

Scholarship of Trans-Disciplinary Action Research (TDAR)
I conducted most my studies using a Trans-Disciplinary Action Research (TDAR) approach, in which objectives were defined across researchers from multiple disciplines and together with community stakeholders. Based on my PhD thesis, I published the development of TDAR for design and planning disciplines in the special issue of Landscape Journal 31 (Schroth et al. 2011) and continue to develop and promote the “Scholarship of TDAR” together with Sue Thering, Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin, Victoria Chanse, Assistant Professor at University of Maryland, and other scholars at the CELA 2011 and CELA 2012 panels on TDAR. As shown in other trans-disciplinary projects, TDAR also offers great opportunities in education and I would like to apply TDAR methods in teaching at the University of Sheffield and involve students in actual planning case studies.

Future Research

Sustainable planning and governance of “landscapes of low-carbonality” across scales and further development of GIS and 3D Landscape Visualization
As part of procedural theory in planning, the potential of GIS and visualization tools is by far not fully researched and utilized: The current trend towards geodesign finally addresses the integration of complex GIS tools and community design processes. I am interested in the further development, application, and evaluation of accessible GIS and visualization tools such as online GIS, mobile/augmented applications and virtual globes with application in participatory geodesign processes. These themes will definitely play a role in teaching GIS at the University of Sheffield and various potential themes for student projects and theses. I also see a lot of potential synergies with the landscape visualization lab that is under construction.

In summary, my main questions are how geodesign, GIS and visualization tools can facilitate landscape planning processes, how they may improve planning outcomes through the incorporation of scientific models, and which limitations they have. Given that empirical evaluation of planning outcomes has often been neglected, I wish to pursue further longitudinal evaluations of ongoing processes and outcomes.