We are modifying our environment at unprecedented rates and scales. We can, however, debate the specific spatial dimensions, rates and significance of these changes. Throughout history, technology has always been a key factor facilitating change. Technology in use today can create environmental change on spatial and temporal scales never before possible. Yet, it also offers us the ability to facilitate our investigations and leads to a more complete understanding of human impact on our environment. Through appropriate use of technologies we can move a significant way toward an environmentally sound management of the Earth's natural resources. Planning and development can no longer take these natural resources for granted. We have to consider not only the needs of the current generations but also those of future generations.
The concept of sustainable development, originally set forth in the World Conservation Strategy (1980) and popularized by the Brundtland Commission in 1987 has been defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet them” (Estes et al. 1992). This statement, however, is still a declaration of intent and has to be specified and tested as to the degree to which it can be made operational within given regions of the globe for specific resources of concerns. Further compounding the issue is the growing necessity of examining such local, regional or national problems in the context of global climatic change scenarios.
To carry out this concept of resource development with due consideration of the mid-term and the long-term effects of such development on the environment will require that researcher, planners and decision-makers have access to unprecedented quantities and types of resource and environmental information. Today, a whole new suite of technologies that can facilitate the acquisition of data and the integration of these data into resources management decision processes are emerging. Use of these technologies for data collection, manipulation, analysis and information extraction can improve our understanding of the global environment and through site characterization of specific study areas, measure, map, monitor and model changes in that environment, and provide decision-makers with the information they require for environmentally sound planning and development.
Significant among these technologies are remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS). Remote sensing devices on aircraft and satellites are capable of recording environmental information at staggering rates with significant economies of scale for many purposes. Geographic information systems (GIS) can integrate these data with other spatial data (for example, maps) and non-spatial date (for example, tables or text) to facilitate new forms of analyses. It has to be noted, however, that these technologies are crossing the boundaries of many traditional disciplines, and the development of academic programs in remote sensing and GIS for environmental monitoring and management poses a challenge to established programs.
This paper addresses the potential of remote sensing and GIS technologies for environmental monitoring and management. It reports on the efforts at the University of Vechta to establish a new University program in environmental monitoring and management. This program is placed in an interdisciplinary environment and integrates advanced spatial technologies such as remote sensing and GIS with ecological science and environmental planning. First results of a new graduate level course in Environmental Monitoring will be presented.