By: Dr. Jacob White, Ph.D., Software Engineer at EarthDaily Analytics
Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) assess whether any aspects of a proposed initiative, such as a construction or land use project, conflict with local or federal guidelines and ensure it follows environmental regulations. An EIR may be presented to government authorities, the general public, and agencies determining whether to fund the proposal. EIRs are concerned with project impacts on people’s health, local wildlife, deforestation, toxic runoff into water and soil, erosion, noise and light pollution, and other concerns.
Because they are so broad in scope, EIRs require a diverse array of data. Traditionally, most of these types of data require on-the-ground specialists to issue statements on the impact of the project. This includes factors such as how much wildlife could be displaced due to cutting down trees or how flooding has affected the area. While some historical data may exist, oftentimes a new EIR requires new data to be collected.
But dependence on these specialists has many limitations. It can take both a significant amount of time and money to collect the necessary data to issue an EIR. Furthermore, historical data may not exist for areas not previously studied, thus requiring a much longer-term data-collecting effort.
The best combination of data sources is one that optimizes a tradeoff between accuracy, cost and required time to generate an EIR. This can vary from report to report, but relying as much as is practical on existing resources (such as Earth Observation data), as opposed to having to go out and collect new data, is the ideal approach to preparing these reports.
Earth Observation can significantly reduce the time and cost of collecting data for an EIR. There are many components of an EIR that can be inferred from Earth Observation data, which are constantly being collected. These include environmental metrics such as methane emissions, wildfire monitoring, de-forestation tracking, ground temperature, coastline erosion, and soil and vegetation health. In addition, historical trends can be easily studied after the fact as new information from the ever-growing volume of Earth Observation data becomes available.
EIRs have wide-reaching implications. If a report was not thorough enough, it could overlook elements of a project that will harm local flora and fauna, poison residents or cause large-scale destruction to the environment. On the other hand, an EIR can ensure that initiatives with huge benefits for a community and minimal negative impacts on the environment come to fruition.
Unfortunately, inaccurate reports can lead to harmful proposals being approved or good ones being rejected. This is not necessarily the fault of the preparer — an inaccurate report simply may not have considered relevant historical data because none was available. If, for example, a five-year study is needed to collect data and fill in the gaps, then this lack of data quickly becomes a problem.
Earth Observation greatly benefits the producers of EIRs as it can make their jobs much easier. There is a growing supply of this data available to them, ensuring accurate assessments can be made in a timely manner for a much lower cost, relative to contracting with many different on-the-ground specialists to conduct environmental studies. As the amount of Earth Observation data grows, it will enable even more detailed historical analysis that will contribute to more thorough, higher-quality EIRs.
The environmental impact of a proposed project can be extremely destructive and have national or even international implications. This is why more governments, agencies and authorities are looking to evaluate such impact as they expand efforts to minimize climate impact. As leading producers and analysts of Earth Observation data, EarthDaily Analytics and EarthDaily Agro play an ongoing role in providing data for EIRs, and in the critically important work of protecting our planet and its precious, life-sustaining resources.
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