Detecting Changes in Time and Space
Natural environments change: environmental ''problems" are essentially unacceptable changes in the rates or direction of this change. Thus, understanding the environmental impacts of human activities requires measuring and understanding those changes. However, we often think of goals as fixed endpoints and the setting of goals as rates and directions of change. The latter can be far more important in terms of the ultimate environmental result.
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING NETWORK
A National Environmental Monitoring Network (NEMN) could be used to
establish baseline data from which environmental change can be measured;
detect trends (both slope and direction) of environmental measures;
determine areas in which research, remediation, or regulation needs to be applied; and
assess the effectiveness (and ultimately cost-effectiveness) of environmental programs in achieving progress in the directions and at the rates that have been tentatively established as goals.
NEMN sites could be set up to adequately cover, to the extent possible, all appropriate natural, rural, urban, and offshore systems. The relative density of the sites in any given area would be a function of the complexity of the area (e.g.,
more dense in complex coastal areas than in the short grass prairie). Site selection could take advantage of existing monitoring stations, such as those at local, regional, or national parks, airports, nature reserves, biological research stations, or other areas with appropriate monitoring facilities. The establishment of new sites is likely to be required in some areas, either because of the low density of existing facilities in the area or because of the unusually high complexity of the area.
Each site could be equipped with the appropriate instrumentation to collect and transmit basic physical and biological data including the following:
Physical data and sampling
Weather: temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, insolation1, wind speed, wind direction, and variability
Soil chemistry and microorganisms
Water chemistry and flow rates
Biological data and sampling
Species richness and diversity
Population dynamics of target species
The methodologies for data collection must be standardized among all sites in the network. These methodologies will be established by a Task Force on Data Standardization consisting of qualified representatives from the physical, biological, and statistical sciences. Although a majority of the data collected will be the same throughout the network, some site-specific data sets and protocols must be established to account for variation among the sites.
To ensure that the protocols continue to be the best available, the methodologies will be reviewed by an external ad hoc committee convened every five years. In addition, site sampling and pilot studies could be used to establish sampling strategies in various environments.
Data Entry, Storage, and Access
Data collected at each of the sites will be entered into a central database on a regular basis (daily, monthly, quarterly, or annually as appropriate). Data entry could be via electronic media, and current data could be available upon demand by scientists, policy-makers, and the general public.
Scientists must have unencumbered access to the raw data. The only requirement to gain access to the data is that the scientist supply NEMN with reprints of publications resulting from use of the data.
It shall be the responsibility of NEMN to maintain the database, prepare and provide summary statistics of the data, and become the curator of physical samples accumulated in conjunction with the collection of data.
The NEMN will sponsor an ongoing program of solicited papers reviewing the trends and implications detected in selected data sets. These papers must be peer reviewed and could be disseminated widely. The target audiences for these papers may vary to include, at different times, scientists, policy-makers, and the general public.
Prior to publication, all solicited papers must be subjected to peer review to ensure the highest quality of data presentation and interpretation.
The NEMN will also maintain a library of publications resulting from the use of data generated by NEMN sites. A bibliography of these publications will be kept current and made widely available.
Data collection and collation require a major commitment of personnel:
On-site technicians. Qualified technicians must be on-site to supervise data monitoring instrumentation and to forward data sets to the central database. Qualifications need not include a college degree but could include training in instrument maintenance and data entry.
Summer parataxonomists. To collect the volumes of biological data necessary at each site, students, amateur naturalists, and other community volunteers could work with professional field biologists to assess changes in species richness and diversity. Because most biological systems are seasonal, this work will be done primarily during the summer. Although the design of collection protocol and identification of the organisms require professional training, actual field work can be done by enthusiastic volunteers.
Professional scientists. Detailed analyses and interpretations of data collected throughout the network could be done by a cadre of scientists working in NEMN. The tasks of these scientists should also include monitoring the integrity of the data by developing protocols, running quality checks, and overseeing the educational materials and solicited papers or other publications coming from NEMN.