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Who needs environmental monitoring?

We monitor the stock market, the weather, our blood pressure. Yet environmental monitoring is often criticized as being unscientific, expensive, and wasteful.

Scientists argue that environmental monitoring is a crucial part of science in the review, “Who needs environmental monitoring"” Gary Lovett (Institute of Ecosystem Studies) and colleagues from several universities and US government offices contributed to the review.

The review is particularly relevant, given the budgetary constraints on current monitoring and the ongoing debate regarding the opportunities, limitations, and costs associated with the establishment of national environmental observatories in the US . These include the upcoming National Ecological Observatory Network, as well as established ecological monitoring programs such as those run by the Environmental Protection Agency and face imminent closure unless Congress reverses the Agency’s budgetary Plans that monitor air pollution and acid rain.

Long-term monitoring programs help society understand environmental issues including acid rain deposition, clean air, ozone, global warming, and invasive species.

According to Lovett et al., the absence of monitoring can greatly hinder evaluation of the effectiveness of environmental policies and programs.

Monitoring data are important for determining if an event is unusual or extreme, and useful in the development of appropriate experimental design. Monitoring data also contribute significantly to the testing of environmental models, such as those that predict climate change.

“While some researchers are concerned monitoring takes away from research funding, the small fraction spent on monitoring actually provides an opportunity to learn which environmental policies work and which do not,” says Lovett.

“While we can’t know for certain all the information a scientist in the future may need, good monitoring programs are still possible. Focusing on critical processes - such as nutrient budgets and controllers of ecosystem function, or concentrating on things people care about such as bird species diversity - will improve the probability that a dataset will be useful for future environmental issues,” say the researchers.

The review concludes that environmental monitoring matters to everyone. Scientists need it for research programs, policy makers need it for setting and evaluating environmental policy, and the public need monitoring to track our nation’s natural resources.

Annie Drinkard | EurekAlert!
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