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NatureInterface > No.08 > P020-024 [Japanese]

Toward Comprehensive Environmental Monitoring System -- Norihiro Obata

Toward comprehensive environmental monitoring system


NTT DATA Corporation, Public Business Sector

Environment and Energy Business Division

Why Comprehensive environmental monitoring system now?

The environmental problems, with which we are faced now, are different from former pollution problems in many respects. As the conventional problems, particular factors such as factories and cars emitted toxic substances and inhabitants and the natural environment on surrounding areas were affected directly and intensively. For this reason, in many cases, damages were noticeable in many cases and determining of the relation between factors and damages was relatively easy.

On the other hand, the environmental problems in recent years have characteristics that indirect and compound influence from multicentric causative substances cover not only certain regions but also geographically dispersed areas and extended over a long period of time.

For example, in the case of global warming, green house gasses, which are the cause of the warming, are emitted from a wide range of sources and its accumulative bad influence over a long period is expected to cause serious problems for the whole earth environment. Moreover, even tiny amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) may cause disorders in genital systems, nerve systems, and immune systems of living organisms, and its influence will possibly exert on future generations.

In order to appropriately respond to environmental risks which are diversified and difficult to be realized, it is required that we comprehensively grasp information about factors which have influence over the natural environment and their interrelationship and that we establish a new environmental monitoring system to reflect the knowledge in administrative measures and activities.

Information sharing and response to changing needs

Toward improvement of the environmental problems, not only conventional implementations of measures under the administrative guidance but also collaborative activities by citizens, companies and government are important. There also has been an emphasis on wide area responses based on geographical conditions and natural ecological system that go over administrative boundaries. In setting up a new environmental monitoring system, it is necessary that the people involved share the process of information collection, management, analysis and its announcement for the enhancement of their mutual cooperation.

Dealing with diversifying monitoring subjects is another issue to discuss. It is expected to make adequate assessments of the wide range of the environmental elements such as toxic substances, (dioxin and EDC), greenhouse gases, the amount of consumed energy, changes in natural ecological system in forests, rivers, and lakes, and the situation of illegal dumping of industrial waste in addition to air pollutants (NOx, SOx, and suspended particulate matter (SPM)), and water quality indexes (pH, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and chemical oxygen demand (COD)). Amongst the elements, some require measurements of extremely low level of concentration and the others have causative regions that are unknown. Therefore, different monitoring systems that are adapted to each case are needed.

Moreover, new needs for measuring and data distribution methods have started to appear. In a promotion of environmental protection, early detection of problems leading to implementation of effective measures is important so that we can expect the data taken from the monitoring to give back to persons involved. Not only carrying out periodical observations at fixed points but also observations in various places at time on demand and immediate data processing should be required. Furthermore, to contrive methods for information service is also important for sharing meanings of the data with people without special knowledge. For instance, showing the observation results in charts as well as numerical values would be good ways to provide information to users.

Evolution of monitoring technology

Progress of IT in recent years has been astonishing, and such technology has gradually made it possible to provide appropriate means to respond to the requests environmental information sharing, diversification of monitoring subjects, and upgrading of information services.

For example, the latest satellite technology enables us to take monochrome detailed pictures which are 1-meter-close to the surface of the earth and 4-meter-close in color to grasp the conditions of forests and rivers both broadly and precisely.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology can also be effectively utilized to deal with the environmental problems. By using the system, we could grasp the current situation and forecast future situation through simulations of the environmental data on a map. An approach that analyzes correlation between multiple data by putting them together on a map is also expected.

Moreover, by the use of personal digital assistant (PDA) with the global positioning system (GPS) installed, it would be possible to collect information about specific regions in real time and exchange the data through cellular phones instantly. Measuring environmental data in various places is also becoming possible along with the development of portable sensors and measuring equipment.

Therefor, for realization of environmental monitoring system, IT is thought to play a very important role and the level of monitoring will be improved by implementing an effective system by combining the technology depending on sectors of subject sectors and situations of regions.

Structures and features of comprehensive environmental monitoring system

In the comprehensive environmental monitoring system, the situation of environment is grasped from various aspects through effective combinations of systems such as fixed-point observation, course observation, mobile cooperative observation, and satellite observation. As to information collection, actions through citizens°« participation, NPO (nonprofit organization), and NGO (nongovernmental organization) are expected as well as observations held by administrative organizations.

The collected data goes under the intensive management of the environmental information center (tentative name) of the nation or local governments. After analysis and practical simulation, the data is quickly sent back to the persons involved. Those processes could lead to appropriate actions taken against problems at early stages. In the meantime, we could uplift the environmental consciousness and the promotion of citizens°« participation in environmental activities through public announcement of environmental information and its utilization for environmental education.

The system is structured by integrating the following three layered data. 1. Standard data taken from fixed-point, 2. Simplified measurement data from simplified sensors, 3. Grass-roots data measured by citizens or NPOs. For the information services, information would be provided depending on users°« purposes. Detailed information would be given to specialists and people in public would receive simple information. Furthermore, effective monitoring is carried out by cross-sectional utilization of remote sensing, PDA, and GIS for served fields such as the air, water quality, the natural environment, and wastes.

Operation of the comprehensive environmental monitoring system

In the operation of the system, firstly, general environmental changes in an area are monitored by °»simplified monitoring,°… then °»detailed monitoring°… is carried out for the places where environmentally deleterious changes are found. In these processes, simplified/mobile network, remote sensing, and simple-moving measurements are applied. Then, appropriate measures are taken based on the analysis results of the collected data and subsequent situations are checked by °»24-houor/periodical monitoring.°…

For example, the information collection process using the mobile network is completed in manner of that some citizens figure out environmental information of mountain area or river area and input the information on GIS on their cellular phones. As a respond to the result, specialists go to the site where illegal waste disposal is found in order to do detailed investigations with PDAs or mobile PCs on which investigation checklists based on an investigation manual are installed.

With respect to remote-sensing-based information collection, the following process is believed to be effective.

Firstly, a satellite with medium resolution or radar sensor grasps wide-area and time-series environmental data time-sequentially in a large mountain area, then an airplane or a satellite with a high resolution/hyper-spectrum sensor photographs detailed situation of the site which environmental changes are observed to take necessary actions.

In simplified/mobile-measurement based information collection, some citizens measure heavy metal contained in groundwater using a kit for simple analysis, and input the information on GIS on their cellular phones or PDAs. An observation vehicle is then dispatched to the place where abnormal matters for more detailed observation to take practical measures.

Applicable scope and merit of the comprehensive environmental monitoring system

The comprehensive environmental monitoring system can be applied to many fields, such as water quality, the air, the natural environment, and waste. Specifically, it can be applied to prevention and source identification of water pollution, prevention of air pollution caused by cars, identification of the source and control of dioxin generation, protection of rare animals and plants, environmental management of forests, farmlands, and urban areas, and measures for illegal waste disposal.

Introduction of the system would make early detection of problems and implementation of effective measures possible. It is very important to detect environmental changes and their causes promptly, as late realization of the actual conditions and slow taking measures would increase bad influence to the environment and the cost for the recovery.

Moreover, in this system, by adopting a structure that citizens can participate in the system from the information collection stage, citizens°« environmental consciousness is uplifted and they will have an incentive to improve their town°«s environment.

When constructing and operating of the system, we could reduce the introduction cost by utilizing the widely used tools such as cellular phones and the Internet. An effective operation can be carried out by building a monitoring system that can benefit from cross-sectional utilization of a monitoring tool, for example, using a satellite for water quality check, monitoring vegetation and illegal waste disposal.

The comprehensive environmental monitoring system has many merits and is expected to utilize as an effective method for promoting environmental protection measures with the collaboration of the persons who cooperate.

Inauguration of °»Environmental monitoring consortium°…

In response to the increasing importance of environmental monitoring, °»Environmental monitoring consortium°… was inaugurated by six companies, NTT DATA Corp., NTT DoCoMo, Inc., NTT DoCoMo Kansai, Inc., DKK-TOA Corp., KOKUSAI KOGYO Co., Ltd., and NTT DATA Institute of Management Consulting, Inc. in September 2001.

This consortium aims to realize the environmental monitoring system in which the latest IT using cellular phones and satellites and the leading-edge monitoring technologies such as high-performance sensors and portable measuring equipment are all put together so that we can collect information comprehensively and effectively utilized for measures to solve various environmental problems.

The participating companies of the consortium have advanced technology and special knowledge in each field. By merging those technologies, the consortium pursues the potential of a new environmental monitoring system that could respond to various environmental problems. In the consortium, NTT DATA is in charge of high-resolution satellite pictures, satellite image supply services (Geo contents service), satellite image analysis technology, GIS technology, and system integration technology and aims to contribute construction of the efficient system that utilizes excellent technology in which each company specializes.

In this system, not only data collection through monitoring but we also seek timely feedback to the environmental management and measure conducted by citizens, companies, and the administration by employing GIS technology and simulation technology. In addition, we accelerate our research by starting up a comprehensive environmental monitoring system group within NPO, the Advanced Institute of Wearable Environmental Information Networks (WIN) with Nature Interface Laboratory, The University of Tokyo.

The comprehensive environmental monitoring method can be utilized widely infrastructure for the environmental management and policy-making at the government and local governments in many fields.

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