Harnessing emerging technologies for environmental conservationNew technologies developed in recent years have the ability to provide unprecedented amounts of raw data to the environmental conservation community (4). These technologies can provide huge amounts of information concerning the impact of human activity on our environment and are already being used by governments across the world to further understand climate change and ecology.
However, to ensure that these technologies can be used to benefit environmental conservation in the most effective way, there is a greater need to provide training that would allow ordinary people to process this vast amount of new data. The information in of itself is useless, but how the scientific community processes it and the changes in environmental policy based off of this new wealth of knowledge may change the ways in which humans effect the environment completely. Current methods for monitoring environmental changesTechniques currently used to monitor the effect of humans on the environment are used to prepare environmental impact assessments, from which changes to government environmental policy can be derived.
These techniques include air, water and soil quality monitoring. Air quality (3) refers to the amount of pollutants (atmospheric substances that could have a negative impact on health) present in the environment and can be judged by air quality monitoring, diffusive air sampling or biomonitoring (using species that bioaccumulate pollutants to find out the air quality of an area). Air quality monitoring is difficult since it involves the integration of multiple environmental data sources (Including sensor networks, geographical information system models and sensor observation services) collected by citizens, regulatory bodies and researchers. Soil sampling (2) involves the collection of soil to analyse the quality, constituent, physical status of it to judge the quality of soil (i.e.
its ability to produce crops or if its potentially dangerous to human, animal or plant life). Soil is collected via grab or composite sampling, grab being the analysis of one sample of soil and composite being the analysis of multiple different samples. Water quality refers to the chemical ,physical and biological characteristics of water relative to the need of one or more organisms including humans. Water quality (1) is analysed in a laboratory by doing experiments to realise its chemical composition, but issues involved with this process include how well the sample represents the water body it comes from as a whole and whether chemicals in the container leak into the water or chemicals in the water latch onto the inside of the container. These methods of judging the human impact on the environment are some of the most widely used and basic, but the use of new technologies in the field, the laboratory and to analyse information provided by sensors has the capacity to significantly increase the efficiency at which we can observe environmental changes, informing government conservational policy to minimise the negative impact of humans on the environment.
New technologies and how they can help us observe environmental changesIn relation to the monitoring of climate change, new advancements in sensor and instrument technologies are allowing scientists to understand the human impact on the international and regional climate, with governments using this new data to change environmental policy and judge the positive impact that current conservatory measures are having (5). The integration of atmospheric and air quality data, increases in the resolution of air quality data and new processing facilities to provide easy access to this information are all steps forward in the field of atmospheric monitoring. In this field international cooperation is key to maintaining long term air quality observation systems, air quality being of special importance since it affects our quality of life and economic prosperity hugely.
Observation of the human impact on the oceans and ice caps is of vital importance, since oceanic resources and changes significantly affect the national and international economy, transportation and trade links and availability of food and minerals. However the vast size of the ocean and polar ice caps makes accurate observations extremely difficult to secure, but higher resolution satellite pictures of the oceans surface and a larger amount of submarine observation is providing more data to the scientific community than ever before, with huge amounts of information being secured relating to changes in sea level, oceanic salinity and ecosystems. The use of new technologies to optimise amount and quality of observation of the land and freshwater can help the UK effectively and sustainably use its finite resources, but the differences in observational systems and the difficulty in sharing data over a regional, national and international level hinder the potency of land conservation policies.
New technologies that could help gather and share more data from this field include satellite forest imagery to trach changes in wooded areas, optical imagery to assess crop condition and ground penetrating radar and LiDAR to understand road surface conditions, as well as more efficient data processing and sharing networks to make sure information can be successfully integrated and government policy can be based upon reliable and accurate knowledge. Data needed for the apprehension and understanding of natural disasters is sorely needed since the UK has got a relatively primitive natural disaster early warning infrastructure and hasn’t yet learnt how to sustainably prevent natural disasters from happening, only how to see that they may happen and evacuate local people. This is especially poignant since the threat of natural disasters (floods, mainly) is rising, directly affected the impacts of climate change on the environment. New technologies for monitoring natural hazards include meteorological and soil moisture monitoring to measure water river level and apprehend flooding, weather radar used to measure rainfall and satellite imagery to monitor wild fire and flood damage.
Overall the use of new technologies in environmental observation has the potential to drastically change how we gather, process, share and utilise data in order to optimise environmental policy and minimise the negative impact humans have on the environment in which we live.