ground- water, geo- statistics, environmental- engineering, earth- science


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Observing and measuring occurrences in nature is the basis for any science, and is the basis for any engineering related to nature. Environmental engineering is very much related to nature. The problem with measurements is that they take time and are expensive. Nevertheless, every model used for prediction/forecasting needs to be calibrated on relevant and significant data. In some middle scale this is an ok task, say measuring the relevant parameters for a gasoline spill from a gas station is feasible. However, things get very complicated on both sides of that scale: moving towards the pore scale, or towards a capture zone, a watershed, or even bigger (maybe global) scale makes things even more difficult. Some questions that might arise include: How do you measure something at a pore scale? Has anybody ever measured groundwater velocity? Really? How do you measure hydraulic conductivity and which value do you put into a groundwater model? How do you access/store the collected data if you need to collect data on a global scale? I could go on…

If a time-component needs to be included, managing what data needs or should be gathered and managing the gathered data can get out of hands, even with today’s fairly sophisticated data managing and analysis tools.

Maintaining a measurement network is a difficult task, but initiating a measurement network something completely different. Sometimes however it happens that somebody or a group of people have the foresight to measure something, or to start to measure something, and the result is an incredible data-set: the tritium isotope data-set started 1952 in Ottawa, Canada, or the measurements of CO2 on Mauna Loa in Hawaii by Charles Keeling starting in 1958. How cool are those data-sets?

Special Issue of “Nature”

Nature Cover

Nature has a special issue on ‘earth observation’. I think all articles are important — here are a few interesting thoughts:

  • The editorial “Patcing Together a World View” sets the stage: It points out how important measurements are, that they make us see things in a different way. He also addresses computers with geographic information systems as the tools that enable us to pull all the gathered data together

    The creation of these new ways of seeing the world would be a significant aesthetic achievement even if they had no commercial, scientific or strategic use. In fact they have all three — as well as an even greater environmental usefulness.

  • Alexandra Witze points in her article “Not Enough Eyes on the Prize”, that often the same things are measured by different agencies, or different countries, funneling funds away from other new measurements. She also points to the problem of measuring things in new (“exciting”) ways with new techniques versus the needs for operational measurements on a regular basis

  • Declan Buttler paints in his article “The Planetary Panopticon” a picture of real-time monitoring everywhere on earth. This requires instruments/satellites, computers, and still, a lot of money. He quotes Rick Anthes:

    A user will be able to get, on demand, climate, or any other information for any place on the planet, on the land, in the oceans, or in the atmosphere, at any time, past, present and future.”

Written by Claus

January 10th, 2008 at 10:21 am

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