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Environmental monitoring

Environmental Monitoring Systems: Types, Purposes

Keeping track of changes in nature to make informed decisions for tomorrow

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Environmental monitoring systems

We need to keep track of changes in our natural environment for many reasons, which have to do with our health and the health of our planet.


Environmental monitoring systems study the air, soil and water in order to measure their current conditions, spot trends and changes, make forecasts and provide early risk warnings, and help policymakers make informed decisions on sustainability and the environment.

What are the types of environmental monitoring?

There are different types of environmental monitoring, depending on what we want to analyze.


  • Air monitoring means taking air samples to keep track of air quality and greenhouse gas levels.
  • Water monitoring includes assessing the impact of pollutants and chemicals in rivers, lakes and the sea, and also keeping track of floods, droughts and water quantity.
  • Ecosystem services monitoring uses satellite data to document the interactions between human development and the environment, for example by measuring forest cover versus farmland, and biodiversity monitoring involves keeping track of animal and plant species in specific areas.
  • Fire, drought and flood monitoring focuses on early warning and damage assessment for natural hazards such as forest fires, floods and droughts.
Aerial view of a road in a green forest
There are different types of environmental monitoring. Air monitoring tracks the air quality and greenhouse gas levels. Water monitoring evaluates the influence of toxic elements and pollutants in the sea, lakes, and rivers, as well as studying floods, droughts, and water quantity. Ecosystem services monitoring analyzes the interaction between human development and the environment. Fire, drought, and flood monitoring consider the damage assessment for natural accidents (such as forest fires, floods, and droughts).

What is the purpose of environmental monitoring

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The purposes of environmental monitoring can range from cities issuing weather or air pollution alerts on certain days, to the international community’s tracking of global greenhouse gas emissions in order to set climate action targets. Environmental monitoring helps leaders make informed decisions and draft environmental policies that are based on scientific findings.

Why is environmental monitoring important?

Environmental monitoring products and software facilitate the implementation of environmental assessment programs to observe the environment, including a central data management hub, automated ecological monitoring alerts, compliance validation, quality control, and generation of reports based on dataset comparison. For example, soil monitoring techniques include grab-sampling (individual samples) and composite sampling (multiple samples) to monitor soil, the environment, and water.

Salinity monitoring uses remote sensing, GIS, and electromagnetic waves to monitor soil salinity, which, if imbalanced, can have detrimental effects on water quality, infrastructure, and plant yield.


The different types of environmental monitoring help prevent natural disasters and define environmental parameters to quantify the impact of certain activities on the environment.

Environmental monitoring programs and reports

Public authorities and international organizations have environmental monitoring programs in place, which generate environmental monitoring reports.


For example, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) maintains the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), an online inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants. The database shows global emission trends to help analyze energy, climate and air pollution policies for industrialized and developing countries alike.

Another example is  the EU’s Digital Observatory for Protected Areas (DOPA), a platform that assesses and reports on protected areas. Policymakers, funding agencies, nature reserve managers, researchers and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) can use DOPA data to allocate resources and manage protected areas.

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While cities cover 3% of the Earth’s land surface, they create more than 70% of all the carbon emissions that lie at the root of our planet’s looming climate crisis. To keep global temperature increases to 1.5°C or below, cities must achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century. To do that, they must make everything — from factories and homes to transportation and consumer devices — more energy efficient and interconnected.


In other words, every urban area must become a smart city with smart energy infrastructure that tracks and communicates crucial information — such as power consumption levels and environmental monitoring data — in real time.


This is where our smart city solutions come in. Enel X’s smart public lighting is connected to a digital platform that integrates information from sensors that can, for example, assess air quality and pollution levels in different parts of the city at the same time.

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Environmental monitoring generates key data for policymakers and managers to achieve zero emissions goals — and smart energy infrastructure is a crucial tool in the effort to create the sustainable cities we need for a better tomorrow.