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What Is Environmental Monitoring?

B. Miller
B. Miller

Environmental monitoring can refer to a few different things. Conducting environmental research and collecting data in order to draw conclusions is one example. Monitoring protected properties to ensure that development or illegal land uses are not taking place is another. Performing environmental monitoring to assess the current state of a certain area in order to determine what impacts certain actions might have is also a common example. Under certain laws, it may also be necessary to test the amount of pollutants or chemicals from pesticides or manufacturing processes in the air, soil, or water.

There are many jobs in which environmental monitoring is a daily task. There are a number of different reasons that environmental research might be performed in a certain area. Though many people in academia perform this type of research, it may also be done to assess the impacts of the creation of new hiking trails, or to determine how many trees can be cut in a timber sale, or many other possible examples. Students will frequently collect very specific data on a certain area that can then be analyzed and applied in the decision-making process to determine how to prevent or mitigate environmental damage.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

Another type of environmental monitoring can take place once a restriction has been placed on a piece of land. This might be because the land was designated as a public park or recreation area, or a private landowner has placed a conservation easement. It is necessary to monitor the land to be sure the agreement is being upheld, so action can be taken if anything is happening before it causes damage. This is sometimes referred to as environmental stewardship, particularly among land trusts or larger nonprofit conservation organizations. These organizations will often enlist the help of volunteers to conduct this environmental monitoring.

Environmental monitoring also takes place to ensure that national or international laws regarding pollutants are being followed. For instance, air quality monitoring might take place to measure the amount of carbon dioxide that a certain manufacturer or power plant emits into the air. Water and soil quality monitoring also check for pollutants such as pesticides or other chemicals. Once these tests are completed, action can be taken to ideally reduce the amount of pollutants by changing certain practices, or determining what can be done to "clean up" certain areas. This type of environmental monitoring is very important for the development and later enforcement of environmental laws and policies.

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