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What is Environmental Data?
Environmental data is defined as any measurements or information that describe environmental processes, location, or conditions; ecological or health effects and consequences; or the performance of environmental technology. For EPA, environmental data include information collected directly from measurements, produced from models, and compiled from other sources such as data bases or the literature.
Source: EPA Guidance on Environmental Data Verification and Data Validation, Appendix B: Glossary
Traditional and non-traditional Environmental Data Collection
Most of the time when we talk about collecting information we are referring to taking environmental samples (air, water, soil) that may be analyzed in the field or in a laboratory. However, environmental samples are not the only environmental data that can be collected to answer a question. Two examples of the other types of data are taking photographs to document an environmental condition (e.g., presence of invasive species) and conducting a bird species count to evaluate biodiversity.
What kind of sampling data are needed?
One of the first steps in planning a Citizen Science project is deciding if you need to take samples and what kind of samples you should collect. There are three general categories of sampling or measurement types:
1) Physical parameters such as temperature or wind direction,
2) Chemical parameters such as metals (e.g., lead, copper, arsenic) and organic chemicals (e.g., benzene, toluene, trichloroethylene); and
3) Biological measurements such as levels of bacteria or algae, or biological indices based on the types and abundances of one or more groups of organisms. Biological indices are described in greater detail on the EPA Water Biocriteria page.
Project/Study Design – Basic Elements to Consider
- Project/Study Protocol Development – location, frequency, equipment and methodology
- A lot depends on WHERE you pick your sites – consider if the sites are right to achieve your goal
- How often will you need to sample and under what conditions?
- Do you have or can you get the equipment needed?
- Do you know or can you learn the necessary methods to conduct your project/study?
- Quantity of environmental data –how much data do you need?
- Quality of environmental data – are your methods, equipment and/or laboratory going to give you what you need?
- Technology Requirements and Use
- Equipment – type of equipment used will tie directly to your data needs
- Web Services – do you have a forum to serve as a focal point/communication for your project?
- Computer Resources – will you use apps, uploads via Smartphone, social media, classic data entry or a combination?
- Capacity – do you have the computer know-how; power and data storage you need for your project/study?
- Supporting Materials and Mechanisms
- Supporting Materials:
- Do you have a central location or space to manage all aspects of the project/study?
- Do you have training materials, field procedures and health and safety material?
- Laboratory, statistics, dissemination:
- Is your laboratory the right one for your project?
- Do you have the right statistical support for data interpretation?
- Do you have in place mechanisms for communicating immediate and final results?
- Plan for Analyzing Data, Results and Information
- Analyzing the data – How will you deal with the data: data entry, management, evaluation and validation, reconciliation with your project/study goals and data sharing?
- Data Results – How will you present your findings?
- Dissemination – How will you promote your project start to finish?
- How will you provide feedback to your volunteers and professionals throughout the entire project/study; encouraging and training them to spot anything out of the ordinary, and not to be afraid to offer solutions or alternatives?
- Final Considerations
- Project/Study Evaluations – How will you evaluate your project throughout its cycle?
- Lessons Learned and Next Steps – have you meet your goal (s)? Encountered any roadblocks? Would you approach your project the same, or differently, and why?
- How will you share your experience and invite outside feedback
For more information, visit the additional resources page.