EU Science Hub

Environmental monitoring

Environmental monitoring can be described as a programme of recurring, systematic studies that reveals the state of the environment. The specific aspects of the environment to be studied are determined by environmental objectives and environmental legislation. The purpose of environmental monitoring is to assess the progress made to achieve given environmental objectives and to help detect new environmental issues.

The results are of fundamental importance to environmental management in general, as the drafting and prioritisation of environmental policies is based on the findings of environmental monitoring.

The JRC’s work supports Copernicus (the European Earth Observation Programme), the Water Framework Directive, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, EU Food Security policy, European Climate Policy, EU Strategy for Sustainable Development, the Directive on ambient air quality and the Clean Air For Europe programme.

The JRC is involved in numerous environmental monitoring activities that survey a steadily increasing number of environmental pollutants in our ecosystems, the shortage of food and water supplies, the rapidly evolving state of climate change, and natural disasters and hazards. The JRC supports the implementation of related EU and global policies, contributes to the exchange of best practice, and develops, implements and harmonises methods of testing.

Air monitoring

The JRC supports long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) monitoring, in particular within the European ‘Integrated Carbon Observation System’ (ICOS) and through activities within Copernicus - the European Earth Observation Programme. The JRC monitors and evaluates the effects of air pollution and climate change policies on the Earth System to determine their effectiveness and provide early warnings of potential risks.

The JRC maintains the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR). This is an online inventory of emissions of GHGs and air pollutants. With this database the JRC shows global emission trends in a comparable and consistent manner to analyse energy, climate and air pollution policies for industrialised and developing countries.

The JRC also supports the Climate Service of Copernicus, the European Earth Observation Programme, by working on the standardisation of Earth Observation products and services related to climate change. This involves making on-site measurements, developing and benchmarking new satellite products and assuring compliance with international standards.

Furthermore, the JRC supports the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol by controlling and reviewing the EU Member States' submissions and contributions to the European Union Greenhouse Gas Inventory report.

Through Greenhouse Gases in Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses in Europe (AFOLU DATA) information system, the JRC provides data, models and other tools to promote transparent, complete and comparable greenhouse gas estimates for this sector in Europe.

The Air Quality Framework Directive and its daughter directive require the monitoring of a range of parameters. Examples of certified reference materials provided by the JRC in this field are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and selected heavy metals in a PM10-like dust, trace elements or dioxins in fly ash, and platinum group elements in road dust.

Water monitoring 

The JRC’s work on water monitoring covers the monitoring of water quality and assessment of the impact of pollutants and chemicals, the monitoring of water and marine ecosystems, the provision of early warnings and risk management, the monitoring of floods and droughts and the monitoring of water quantity in Europe and worldwide. 

The Water Monitoring Service, set up in the context of the GEOLAND research project, addresses water management issues in the context of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive in Europe. Both directives require quality assured and harmonised information on water quality and quantity as well as tools for making predictions.

The Water Monitoring Service provides a pan-European model that aims to compare country-specific models in order to address cross-border catchment issues and the integrated analysis of transnational water bodies.

The models provide information on water balance, flows in all major streams and rivers, soil moisture level, lake/reservoir levels, snow water equivalents, and regional snow coverage.

The system can be used for prediction of the current and future hydrological climate.

In the context of water monitoring and acquisition of reliable and comparable analytical data, the JRC develops suitable reference materials for substances on the priority list in freshwater, seawater and related matrices such as biota and sediment.

Ecosystem services monitoring

One of JRC's main roles in this area is to provide tools for the monitoring of ecosystems and agrosystems, and to contribute to the understanding of the interactions between development, environment, and security issues. It fulfils this role by engaging in near-real-time monitoring activities using satellite data and dedicated geospatial knowledge management systems.

Biodiversity monitoring

The Digital Observatory for Protected Areas (DOPA) is a biodiversity information system that functions as an assessment, monitoring and forecasting tool for biodiversity. It was developed to support the ambitious mission of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for 2020: to halt the loss of biodiversity and to share the values and benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services equitably.

DOPA is designed to provide decision makers with the most relevant, reliable and up-to-date scientific information obtained from ground and space observations in order to assess pressures on protected areas, as well as analytical tools to identify areas that are most suitable for conservation.

Fire, drought and flood monitoring

The JRC focuses on the improvement of early warning, monitoring and damage assessment systems for weather-driven natural hazards. Modelling is a fundamental tool for assessing climate change effects and the occurrence of natural events such as forest fires, floods and droughts.