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Friday, January 22, 2010

What are Environmental Information Systems and Surveillance in Environmental Management?

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Dissemination and reception of information about various aspects of Environment for a better management, is called as Environmental Information Exchange and the system employed for it is known as Environmental Information (exchange) System. The word “Surveillance” in French, literally means “watching over”. The term is often used for all forms of observations or monitoring, not just the visual observation. This word is commonly used to describe observation from distance by means of electronic equipments or by other technological means like remote sensing satellite.


In general terms, the scientific practice of surveying, observing,, testing and evaluation of Environmental Quality is called as Environmental Surveillance. It includes observation, sampling, testing, and decision making regarding the actual status of the environment of a particular area.


Different governments across the globe have well developed networks of information exchange and surveillance that work under their Environmental Management Systems. The Government of India has established Environmental Information (ENVIS) Centres in different parts of the country. These centres ensure the integration of National efforts in the collection of environmental information, collation, storage, retrieval, and dissemination to concerned persons, institutes and research stations. ENVIS centres have been set up in areas of pollution control, toxic chemicals, Central and Offshore Ecology, Environmentally sound and appropriate technology, bio-degradation of waste and management etc. The ENVIS- centres collect information regarding various aspects of environmental management and keep a data-base for ready reference. The data received from these centres are used for preserving, promoting and protecting the environment. These data are also used in predicting environmental conditions and for making further programmes towards better management of the environment. The ENVIS- information centres are linked together to form a complete system for exchange and communication of environmental information.


ENVIS was established in India as a Plan Programme in December 1982 under the Department of Environment and Forest, the Government of India. It is a complete network system distributed all over the country and it is equipped with advanced computer- systems and modern technologies. The applications of remote sensing artificial satellites have brought great changes in communication technology. These help us in keeping informed about different aspects of environment like monsoon, drought, cyclones etc.

The Environmental Information Exchange System at its centre is responsible for the co-ordination of ENVIS network operating through out the country. It is also responsible for identification of ENVIS centres in specialised areas, the location of these areas and linking these areas with the focal point located at the centre. The main centre or the focal point sends guidelines and designates procedures for different ENVIS centres located at different places. It is also responsible for the collection, storage, retrieval and dissemination of information in the areas in which ENVIS centres have not been established and also in many general areas like environmental research, environment policy formulation, environmental management, environmental legislation, and environmental impact assessment etc. The focal ENVIS centre is also responsible for the collection of data and establishment of data bank, and computerisation in the area of application. It has to establish liaison between the National Information System and the International Information Systems. It publishes abstracts in its journal entitled Paryavaran Abstracts. Besides these, the central ENVIS centre organises training programmes, and seminars, monitors and reviews activities of different centres under it and offers secretarial helps and assistance to the scientific advisory committees.

The Environmental Information Systems have both long term and short term objectives.

Long Term Objectives

(i).This system is responsible of building a repository and disseminate centre in Environmental Science and Environment;

(ii).Gearing up the modern technologies of acquisition, processing, storage, retrieval and dissemination of information of environmental information;

(iii).Support and Promotion of research, development and innovation in the environmental Information Technologies.

Short Term Objectives

(i).Providing the National Environmental Information services to users, originators, processors etc. and dissemination of information wherever it is needed,

(ii). Building up storage, retrieval, and dissemination capabilities with the ultimate objectives of disseminating information;

(iii). Promotion of national and International cooperation and liaison for the exchange of information pertaining to different aspects of environmental management;

(iv). Promotion and assistance to education and personnel training programmes for the processing of environmental information;

(v). Promotion of exchange of information among developing countries about environment and its improvement

Environmental Surveillance and Environmental Monitoring

The environmental Surveillance is often understood as environmental Monitoring. The environmental monitoring or surveillance in this sense is done by Pollution Control Boards, Environmental Research Stations, Environmental Sections of Industrial Houses, and by Non-Governmental Organisations working for the conservation and preservation of environment. The practice of environmental surveillance at a particular area involves specific practices like regular sampling, testing for standards and parameters, documentation, comparison and analysis. Sampling of air is done through specific samplers in the field for testing air pollutants. Sampling of water, soil, and food items is done by taking samples to the laboratory.


Currently, most of our metropolitan cities, coastal lands, coastal waters, industrial areas and densely populated places have become vulnerable to severe pollution. The waters of seas and oceans have become seriously polluted due to harbour activities including shipping, dredging, fish processing, and oil spills. So, a regular monitoring is essential in these areas in order to implement control measures. It is a matter of common knowledge that setting up of a factory or industry may pollute the environment of the place where it is proposed to be established. So, surveillance and monitoring at that place starts right from the stage of planning and goes on frequently till the factory or industry stands after installation. Environmental Monitoring at mining sites is a necessary practice. Every industry has to keep an environmental section in its organisation, which is responsible for the monitoring and control of pollution due to industrial practices. Policies made for the protection of environment are basically aimed at – protection and property; protection and conservation of resources; control of crisis in the natural and artificial spheres of environment; and keeping up the balance of environment. The activities of Environmental Surveillance are done as a routine in some selected areas according to specifically designed environmental programmes. In these places concentration of pollutants is detected and effective control measures are taken up at once to bring it down. If monitoring shows a decreasing trend in pollution the programme is confirmed to be successful. Precisely, the objectives of the environmental monitoring/ surveillance are –


1. Estimation of concentration of a pollutant in specific area,

2. Finding out sources of pollution, locating its source, and assessing its contribution in disturbing the balance of the local area,

3. Estimation of the rise and fall in the level of pollution through comparison of data obtained through surveillance at different intervals,

4. Assessment of the exposure and risk in order to plan suitable control measures.

The Environmental Surveillance is beneficial for Environmental Management in following ways -

1. Environmental Surveillance is useful in the assessment of environmental quality i.e. the quality of air, water, soil, and food.

2. It helps in finding out the degree of undesirable impacts and health hazards associates with a particular pollutant.

3. It makes aware the residents of a particular area about the health of their local environment.

4. Surveillance data are useful to people of other areas in changing and adopting new strategies of Environmental Management.

5. It helps in finding out pollutant exposure through air, water, soil, and food. Thus Health Risk can be assessed and safety measures can be taken up.

6. It is very important in industrial places where a large number of people remain engaged in their duties. The detection of pollution level and any possible leakage of a toxic gas may save the lives of millions of people who work in a big industry or live in the close environments.

7. It helps a country against any possible dissemination of germs of diseases, spread of exotic invasive species of plants, animals or micro organisms and protects from bio-invasion and bio-terrorism etc. upto much extent.

Remote sensing and environmental surveillance

Remote sensing satellites have major roles to play in surveillance. The remote sensing satellite is an earth observation satellite, mostly built under special space programme. The Indian Remote Sensing satellites (IRS) are a series of satellites launched and maintained by Indian Space Research Organisation. This series of communication satellites provide remote sensing services to the country. After completing the Bhashkar series of satellites by 1981, India started the development of Indigenous IRS programme which was intended to support the National Economy in different fields like agriculture, water resources, forestry and Ecology, water sheds marine fisheries and management of sea coasts. Later, a Natural Resource Management System was developed under the Department of Space as a Nodal Agency and it provides operational remote sensing date services. So far, following important Remote Sensing Satellites have been launched by India for the surveillance purposes-

§ IRS-1A: launched on 17.03.1988, it has been the first Operational Remote Sensing Satellite, launched by a Russian Vostoc.

§ IRS-1B: launched on 29 August, 1991 by the same Vostoc Russian Launch Vehicle.

§ IRS-P2: launched on 15 October, 1994 by PSLV-D2, the Indian Launch Vehicle.

§ IRS-1C: launched on 28.12.1995, this remote sensing satellite carries remote sensing cameras and it was launched by the Russian Molniya launch vehicle.

§ IRS-P3: launched on 21 March, 1996 by PSLV-D3.

§ IRS-1D: launched on 29 September, 1997 by PSLV-C1.It is still in service.

§ IRS-P4: launched on 27 May, 1999 by PSLV-C2.It is also in service and it is also called as Oceansat-1.

§ Technology Experiment Satellite (TES): launched on 22 October, 2001 by PSLV-C3.It is still in service.

§ IRS-P6 or Resources-I: launched on 17 October 2003 by PSLV-C5 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR-Sriharikota. It is also, still in service.

§ IRS-P5 or Carosat-1: launched on 5 May 2005 by PSLV-C6.It is also still in service.

§ Carosat-2 or IRS-P7: launched on 10 January 2007 by PSLV-C7. It is also, still in service.

Further, Carosat-2A, RISAT, Oceanosat-2, Resourcesat-2, TWASAT, and Resourcesat-3 are proposed to be launched in future. Most of these are aimed at surveillance of environment, natural resources, health and medicine, disasters, climate conditions, securities etc. India and United States signed a Vision Statement, jointly prepared by both the parties during the “India-US Conference on Space Science, Applications and Commerce”- held in Bangalore from 21 to 25 June, 2004.The Vision Statement calls on both the nations to- “work together to leverage benefits of space capabilities of India and US and contribute to sustainable global economic growth and scientific advancement. The statement also calls both the nations to work together in the areas of Earth Observation Science, Technology and related applications including natural resource management, meteorology, water cycles, and atmospheric sciences, research and management in the field of natural hazards and disasters etc.

Applications of Surveillance Data Received Through Remote Sensing Satellites

The surveillance Data received through the Remote Sensing Satellites is used for various applications related to Environmental Management Systems or the National Resource Management System (NRMS).The list of applications of the surveillance data received through remote sensing satellites are –

§ Drought monitoring and assessment,

§ Pre-harvest crop area and production assessment of crops,

§ Flood-damage assessment and zone-mapping,

§ Preparation of Hydro-geomorphologic maps for locating underground water resource for the drilling of wells,

§ Status Monitoring of Irrigation Command Area,

§ Planning water-use in downstream projects through the estimation of Snow-melt run-off,

§ Mapping of the land cover and estimation of the land-use,

§ Urban Planning,

§ Coastal Studies,

§ Integrated water resource development in different districts of states of India,

§ Prospecting of minerals,

§ Wetland Mapping,

§ Survey of forests, forest fires etc.

Some countries (like Canada) have established Surveillance Towers fitted with powerful cameras, in their countries. Such towers serve as eyes in the sky.


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