Capstone Project: Environmental Systems

Pages: 45 (12463 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 60  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Geography  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … environmental systems in the past five years. Summarize the techniques used, the assumptions and limitations faced, the potential for error and how it was minimized, and the lessons learned.

Scope/Direction of the Research

The scope of the study extended to a review of relevant studies published within the last 5 years to provide an overview and recapitulation of the techniques that have been used in recent years to study the development of environmental systems, the assumptions and limitations that have been encountered along the way, the potential for error and how it was minimized, and the lessons learned from these efforts. The development of environmental systems includes various geospatial technologies, alternative energy systems, and other technological solutions that are designed to interact with and monitor the earth's natural environment. This analysis is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Potential Limitations of the Research

A potential limitation of this research project was the lack of relevant scholarly studies on this topic as well as the 5-year time constraint involved which excluded several on-point studies from being included in the analysis. The search protocols employed for this purpose included Boolean searches using key words such as "environmental systems," "quantifiable risk," "risk management," "analytical methods," and various permutations of these search terms in reliable online research resources such as EBSCO and Questia, using various delimiters such as the timeframe of the published studies. Another potential limitation of the research concerned the potential for recent innovations in research approaches used to study the development of environmental systems in the pasts 5 years to be overlooked during the research process, especially given the lag between original research and the time required to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Finally, a potential limitation encountered during the research process was dynamic nature of the technologies that are currently being used, with innovations being introduced on a daily basis that can have profound effects on the utility of existing research methods.

Purpose of the Research

The purpose of this study, as noted above, was to compare and contrast the research approaches used to study the development of environmental systems in the past 5 years, as well as the assumptions and limitations that have been experienced, the potential for error in such systems and how they were minimized, as well as what lessons were learned from these efforts.

Summary of Research Techniques used to Study Environmental Systems

Quantitative Risk Assessment

It has become axiomatic in the business world and scientific community alike that in order to improve something, it must first be measured and this is also the case with the quantitative research techniques that have been used in recent years to develop environmental systems. According to Neuman (2003), quantitative research uses "information in the form of numbers" (p. 542). Environmental management research uses a variety of quantitative research methods for risk assessment applications, including potential risk to human health as well as the environment as a result of anthropomorphic activities (Autenrieth, 2012). Likewise, quantitative risk assessment of environmental risk factors is a fundamental unit of analysis for environmental researchers (Leyk, Phillips, Smith & Nuckols, 2011). The quantitative data that results from these analyses can provide decision-makers with the information they need to conduct the requisite cost-benefit and what-if type scenario analyses, and to allow scarce resources to be focused where they will provide the maximum return on their investment (Autenrieth, 2012). Moreover, because the quantitative risk assessment method can use existing epidemiological data to measure the impact of exposure of different environmental threats on different populations, no new research is required to use this method with archived data (Corvalan, Briggs & Zielhuis, 2009).

Other increasingly popular applications of quantitative risk-assessment research methods for environmental management research include formulating timely and efficient responses to environmental disasters such as oil spills (Autenrieth, 2012). In sum, then, the quantitative risk assessment approach is "the application of a statistical relation between exposure and the associated health outcome to assess either the health risk to a population or the exposure level associated with a given risk" (Corvolan et al., 2009, p. 120).

Biomonitoring

Biomonitoring research that uses quantitative data has also become an increasingly valuable tool for environmental systems development. According to Vandenberg, Chahoud, Padmanabhan, Paumgartten and Schoenfelder (2010), biomonitoring research involves collecting the quantitative data that is needed to conduct toxin exposure assessments, an approach they maintain helps to identify health threats that might otherwise go undetected. In this regard, Lakind, Barraj, Tran and Aylward (2008) report that, "The risk assessment paradigm, which serves as the basis for public health evaluations and actions with respect to environmental chemicals, requires not only an assessment of the potential toxicity of a chemical but also an estimate of human exposure" (p. 61). With respect to their application in environmental system development and analyses, biomonitoring relies on human-produced evidence to provide the data needed to formulate expert interpretations and recommendations. In this regard, Lakind et al. define biomonitoring as "the direct measurement of chemicals or their metabolites in blood, urine, or other bodily fluids or tissues, is becoming an increasingly common exposure assessment tool" (2008, p. 61). The application of biomonitoring research methods fro environmental systems to date have confirmed their efficacy and a growing body of evidence supports the use of biomonitoring for other environmental system development efforts as well (Vandenberg et al., 2010).

Geographic Information Systems

Other research methods used to develop environmental systems in recent years that have relied on quantitative data include geospatial technologies such as geographic information science or systems, remote sensing and global positioning systems (Lambert, Munro-Stasiuk, Czajkowski, Benko et al., 2008). In recent years, geospatial technologies have been applied to the development of environmental systems for forestry, water use, wildlife management and agricultural practice, among others (Hoalst-Pullen & Patterson, 2010). According to Satapathy, Katpatal and Wate (2008), geospatial information technology systems are increasingly important research tools that can help decision makers better understand the implications of current and projected human activity on the environment. According to the definition provided by Suit, geospatial technologies are "an amalgamation of several technologies, including but not limited to remote sensing, GIS, GPS, and related fields such as computer mapping, spatial modeling, and data visualization" (p. iii). The use of geospatial data dates to the mid-to late 20th century, but serious environmental management development systems were not realized until around the turn of the century (Sui, 2007).

These geospatial research methods represent the cutting-edge of environmental system development today, and new applications continue to be identified (Sui, 2007). For example, Haining, Kerry and Oliver (2010) report that, "Geostatistics is a distinctive methodology within the field of spatial statistics. In the past, it has been linked to particular problems (e.g., spatial interpolation by kriging) and types of spatial data (attributes defined on continuous space)" (p. 7). Originally developed in France in the 1960s (Goodchild, 2008) for use in the mining industry (Gething, Noor, Gikandi et al., 2008), geostatistics has become the most widely used research method by geostatisticians because of the fundamental nature of the quantitative data that is involved (Haining et al., 2010).

The research method used by geostatisticians, though, is distinguished by several differences from the methods that are generally used by geographers for analyzing spatial variations that are associated with regional data (Haining et al., 2010). In this regard, geostatistics include a wide array of tools and modeling methods that can be used with researching various environmental management scenarios including:

1. Prediction;

2. Determination of the scale of spatial variation;

3. Design of sampling for primary data collection;

4. Smoothing of noisy maps;

5. Region identification;

6. Multivariate analysis; and,

7. Probability mapping (Haining et al., 2010).

The application of Geostatistics to environmental research also has a growing body of evidence in support of its efficacy and continued use for these purposes (Haining et al., 2010), a process that will likely accelerate in the future as access to timely geospatial data becomes more widespread. Moreover, this process is being facilitated by the placement of geospatial research tools in "the cloud," in online venues. In this regard, Internet-based GIS has describes GIS services that employ the Internet as their primary means of accessing data, conducting spatial analyses, and providing interactive services related to geographic information (Yao & Zou, 2008). Geostatistics are also increasingly being used to help identify optimal placements for wind turbine generators in wind farms throughout the United States and elsewhere (Dincer & Rosen, 2007). According to Dincer and Rosen, "Energy and exergy efficiency models for wind generating systems are used to produce exergy monthly maps. With these map for a specific system, exergy efficiencies in any location in a considered area can be estimated using interpolation" (p. 196).

ISO 14001

Besides the foregoing approaches, a growing number of companies around the world are basing their environmental system development efforts on the analytical framework provided by ISO 14001 (Zsoka, 2007). The ISO 14001 framework provides a number of auditing and other analytical… [END OF PREVIEW]

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