What is Environmental Monitoring?
For many of us, 2022 marks a new start both for our health and wellness and also for wider environmental awareness. With the hugely successful Don’t Look Up, bringing 2021 to a close and Veganuary returning to kick-off 2022, the turn of a new year brings new questions about what’s going on in our own environment. More than a passing fad, many of us are keen to learn about how we can play an active role in caring for the planet and integrate this into our day-to-day lives. In an increasingly digital landscape, we can track, collect and exchange data about the world around us by using a practice known as ‘environmental monitoring’.
What is Environmental Monitoring?
Environmental monitoring is the term used to describe the instruments and procedures used to examine and analyse the health of the planet. These key environmental indicators help us understand the health of the planet. A number of different activities are measured and assessed for their influence and impact on the environment, such as biodiversity, resource depletion, food production, global temperature, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, noise levels, air quality, human population and the health of our water systems. The data gathered by environmental monitoring is used to report to national policymakers, international forums and the general public on environmental conditions and trends.
What are the different types of Environmental Monitoring?
Here we take a look at three types of environmental monitoring most closely associated with daily human activity: air, water and waste.
Ever wondered why you feel so relaxed after a day at the beach? A day spent breathing in fresh air stimulates serotonin production, leading to elevated mood and a deeper night’s sleep. Breathing in clean, fresh air provides a boost to health, increasing the amount of oxygen in the body, strengthening the immune system and fighting illness. As 20% of the air we breathe is used by the brain to function, there is an obvious need for quality air in the environment around us. On the other hand, many of us aren’t fully aware of how much harm air pollution causes to the health of our people and our planet.
More than just a lack of fresh, clean air, there are vast quantities of pollution being poured into the atmosphere every single moment.
A toxic cocktail of pollutants are inhaled, leading to a host of health issues such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, central nervous system dysfunction and a variety of cancers. Many of these pollutants cause direct poisoning and chronic intoxication as well as the distribution of infectious diseases. On a wider scale, environmental pollution is of course linked to natural disasters and environmental destruction.
In order to safeguard national air quality and keep the risk to human health at a minimum, government legislation aims to guide businesses and organisations to curbing their toxic output. Public awareness programmes, scientific advisory bodies and international organisations must all work together to propose a means of clearing the air and ensuring pollution is limited. Real-time monitoring of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, methane and particle matter are collected, measured then reported by sensors and software in geographical areas of interest. The Air Pollution Indicator demonstrates how specific pollutants affect the air quality in different countries, with specific interest in industries such as agriculture and waste management. Reports on pollutant emissions are essential to assess transboundary air pollution and inspire international collaboration to address it.
Water is vital to all life on Earth – it must be sanitary and safe to drink, it is essential for marine life and biodiversity. Simply put, water is life. As such, developed, industrialised nations must strive to safeguard and monitor global water quality at all times. Sensors placed in bodies of water can measure, process and report a number of factors such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and bioindicators. In addition to autoprocessing software, water samples can also be collected manually and sent for laboratory testing. The resulting analysis is used to support actions that focus on improving water quality for human and aquatic life. Rivers, lakes and other fresh bodies of water are increasingly threatened by human activity such as overfishing and pollution; with the use of collected data, global projects and programmes such as ‘Fresh Water Watch’ work to foster understanding and awareness around the importance of healthy freshwater sources.
No matter how great our intentions, the human population is increasingly wasteful. Whether recycling, burning or bound for landfill, whatever we discard must be dealt with; the waste disposal process itself can pollute the environment, exposing humans to harmful substances and pathogens. In reflection of consumer habits, the more economically active a nation is, the greater the volume of generated waste. On the other hand, when an economy shifts to less material-intensive manufacturing and lighter consumption patterns, the volume of generated waste decreases. The purpose of waste monitoring then is to assess the overall environmental impact of waste generation by type and intensity.
So what can we do with all this data? It is the age of information communication and yet, despite being saturated in knowledge, are we playing an active role in applying what we learn? For those among us who want to feel more connected yet aren’t ready for a fully green venture, there are a growing number of smartphone apps to engage with. Trackers such as ‘Commute Greener’ monitor users’ greenhouse gas emissions while ‘Plume Labs: Air Quality Apps’ provides information about the pollution around us.’My Footprint: Climate & Nature’ challenges users to take small, simple actions that can have a lasting effect in cutting the carbon footprint while the novel and cutting-edge ‘Treeapp’ allows users to plant trees every day around the world in exchange for browsing and purchasing from a range of vegan, cruelty-free, plastic-free and ethical brand produce. For inspiration on how to reduce your footprint and tread more lightly on the planet, check out our eco-friendly inspiration blog.