Internet could be “eco-watchdog”

The Internet could provide an early-warning system for environmental damage, Reuters reported, citing a study by scientists from Sweden, the United States and Britain who say that better environmental information could help governments to act. Such an alert system, the researchers note, could imitate an online watchdog that alerts health officials to outbreaks of disease.


“We’re facing huge environmental challenges … But we don’t have good monitoring systems,” said Victor Galaz of Stockholm University, the study’s lead author. “With the Internet, there are pretty good ways to get that information. Nobody has exploited that, really.”


An automated trawl of blogs, videos, online news and other sources could yield information to fill in a bigger picture of global warming, pollution, deforestation, over-fishing and other environmental problems, the scientists think.


Their study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, pointed to successes by the Global Public Health Intelligence Network. By searching news wires and web sites for information about diseases, the network picks up the first hints of about 40% of the 200 to 250 outbreaks subsequently investigated and verified annually by the World Health Organisation, the scientists wrote.


Some online environmental monitoring networks already exist, such as those that record birdwatchers’ sightings. Many bird species, the watchers have shown, are shifting their ranges in what may be a sign of climate change. Researcher Tim Daw of Britain’s University of East Anglia said scattered observations from scuba divers in Australia, Hawaii or the Caribbean might help assemble a bigger picture of the health of coral reefs.


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