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4. Finding Environmental Reports

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Mogreenstats focuses on environmental studies and reports that are published by government sources or in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Information that relates specifically to Missouri can be hard to locate, and part of the purpose of this blog is to point the way for others. The best way to find information on a specific topic is to read a post on this blog, and then follow the links at the bottom. I spend hours searching out these reports, wrestling with complex websites, and following blind leads. Why would you want to do that if you don’t have to?

However, I have been urged to prepare a more general summary of sources that I have found most useful. This is going to be arcane, but maybe it will be helpful. Keep in mind that websites are constantly changing. Paths I used just 9 months ago have changed, and what I write today is likely to change going forward.

For research purposes, I want data that can be downloaded and imported into a spreadsheet program for massaging (I use Excel). There is a lot of data on the web that is intended for viewing, not downloading. The material below leads to data that can be downloaded, even if you have to work with it before you can get it into Excel.

Google It!

My #1 research strategy is to search Google for the information I want. It takes a little experience to formulate a good Google search, but it has been a very efficient strategy for me. If I want to emphasize information from a particular department or agency, I make sure to include it in the search string. So, for instance, if I want to know about natural gas consumption in Missouri, and I know that the Energy Information Agency has that information, my search might include “natural gas consumption,” “Missouri,” and “EIA.”

The problem with googling is that it often leads to information similar to what you want, but not exactly the right stuff. Many big data websites are focusing on simplified information for general consumption, and Google tends to lead to these pages. Or, if you search for “natural gas,” for example, you are likely to get natural gas production, not natural gas consumption.

Thus, I also look for information by browsing websites. The problem is that many of them are incredibly complex. They are absolutely loaded with information, most of which is irrelevant to this blog. Browsing to find the specific information I want can sometimes be difficult. However, occasionally it is the only possible strategy.

Climate Data

I report climate data more than any other kind. I piece it together from two sources. Easiest to use are the National Weather Service Forecast Offices for specific regions. Each office provides historical data for the region in which it is located. Using the St. Louis office as an example, I have followed the following path to the information: NWS Forecast Office St. Louis Home Page » Climate – Local » Local Data/Records. Each weather station maintains slightly different records. In St. Louis, the best tabular information is under “Climate Data,” but the best graphs are under “Climate Graphs.” How far back the data will go depends on when the location began keeping records. In St. Louis it goes back to the late 1800s. This data is only for the immediate locale.

The best source I have found for global, national and state (and sometimes local) climate data is the National Climate Data Center (NCDC). It provides a great deal of information, and it digests a good bit of it into reports. It is really best to read my individual posts and follow the links at the bottom. However, I have been able to navigate to a database portal that provides historical temperature, precipitation, heating & cooling degree days, and drought index information. You can filter by which months of the year you want, which years you want, and which region or state you want. The featured output is a graph, but below the graph is an option to download CSV data. This data portal is called “Climate at a Glance,” and I have navigated along this path: NCDC Home Page » Climate Information » Climate of the United States » Climate at a Glance.

Lots of organizations and individuals do climate studies. The reports I have followed are periodic assessments compiled by two organizations. The first are the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their most recent reports are available on their home page. The second are the national assessments of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). To navigate to these reports, I followed this path: USGCRP Home Page » Resources–USGCRP Publications » [pick which assessment you want].

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

I found national GHG emission data at the EPA website. The easiest way to find it is to google the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory. However, to browse, I followed this path: EPA Home Page » Learn the Issues » Climate Change » Greenhouse Gas Emissions » National. The EPA had the most recent inventory available, and also an archive of previous inventories.

State and local inventories are more problematic. Sometimes they are easily available on the website of the state or local government. Sometimes, however, they are deleted after a period of time. Sometimes they continue to be available if I google them, but I can find no way to browse to them. Google the name of the municipality, “Missouri,” and “greenhouse gas inventory.” If you’re really stuck, and you need one of the GHG inventories I’ve reported on but can’t find it, you can contact me for a copy. Email mogreenstats@gmail.com.

I have found one national database of state emissions. It involves CO2 emissions from the consumption of fossil fuel, thus it is far from a comprehensive report of all GHG emissions. It is a simple conversion of the energy data provided by the EIA (see below), and it is maintained by the EPA. I was able to browse to it along the following path: EPA Home Page » State and Local Climate and Energy Program » Resources » State Energy CO2 Emissions.

There is one nonprofit database that I do use because it compiles data published in several documents by the Department of Energy and EPA. The organization is called CARMA, Carbon Monitoring for Action (www.carma.org). CARMA provides a database of power plants across the United States, their location, their energy output, and their carbon emissions. I have followed this path: CARMA Home Page » Dig in & Download the Data. This opens a data portal where I could filter data by continent, country, region, state, city, and power company. It also let me select data from 2004 or 2009. If you want to know the most carbon intense power plants in Missouri, for instance, CARMA is a good source.

Population, Housing, and Some Economic Data

Often I want to translate data in total amounts into amounts per capita. The Census Bureau is where I get that information. However, the Census Bureau is one of the most complex and confusing websites I visit. It provides access to an overwhelming amount of data, and it makes it available through a confusing and overlapping set of data tools, as well as by providing direct access to files.

The main focus of the Census Bureau is current information. One vehicle through which that is provided is the “Quick Facts” feature, which I found on their home page. I picked a state (Missouri, of course), and up popped a selection of 52 characteristics for Missouri and the USA. They ranged from population to demographics, to family composition, to housing, to labor characteristics, to business entities, to economic production, to geographics. Just a selection of the kinds of information available at the Census Bureau.

I found the American FactFinder feature of the Census Bureau’s website difficult and slow to use. Perhaps I’m just not good at it yet, but I tend to avoid it.

I have been interested in environmental trends over time, so I have been interested in population changes over time. Here is one instance where trying to google the information didn’t work for me. Look in individual posts on this blog for direct links to this information. To browse to it, I followed the following path: Census Bureau Home Page » Estimates » Population Estimates » Historical Data. The Historical Data Page gave me a selection of datasets that run from the nation’s founding through the 2010s. These are retrospective summary reports, but the data they include changes and the years they cover vary, so you have to manually combine data from multiple reports.

Two caveats here: first, be aware that estimates are not the same as the decennial census. Estimates are produced yearly, the census every 10 years. The population estimate produced early in a census year will not be the same as the census count produced a few months later. It’s important to compare apples to apples.

Second, some of this data was in a text format. In other words, the numbers were not formatted into a table. Instead, they were text strings that used multiple spaces to format the entries into columns. If a website contains a html table, often you can copy rows, columns, or the whole table directly from the browser and paste it into Excel. There are also browser add-ons that will help with this process.

But if the data is text with multiple spaces between columns, this won’t work. You can try printing the table as a PDF file. There are inexpensive programs available on the web that will translate PDFs to Excel. These translators work sometimes, however they are not always accurate, and you have to check their work. Often, I have been forced to save the file from my browser as a text document, and clean it up manually. I opened the text file in a word processor (I use Word), and deleted everything except the table I wanted. Then I used Word’s Find and Replace function to eliminate multiple spaces until there was only 1 space between each column in each row. In the Find field, I typed 5 spaces. In the Replace field I typed 1 space. I selected “Replace All.” This replaced instances of 5 spaces with a single space. I repeat this process until Word found no more instances of 5 spaces. Then I repeated the procedure with 4 spaces until Word found no more instances of 4 spaces, then 3, and finally with 2. This left a document with only 1 space between each column. Then I used the Find and Replace function to replace spaces with tabs. That left me a table with columns separated by a single tab, just what Excel wants. I saved my work, then outputted the file as a text file. I inputted the text file into Excel as a tab-delimited text file. The process works, but you have to check your work throughout the process, and it takes time.

The University of Missouri operates the Missouri Census Data Center. It serves as a portal – a way to access data from the U.S. Census Bureau relevant to Missouri. It focuses on recent information, and I found it better to work directly with the Census Bureau web site.

Economic Data

On a few posts I have wanted to translate raw data into data per unit of economic output. Gross Domestic Product is a summary statistic that represents the entire economic output of the United States. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) provides a similar statistic for each state. To access this information, I followed this path: BEA Home Page » GDP by State and Metropolitan Area » Data – Gross Domestic Product by State. It provided two data sets, one pre-1997, the other post-1997. The two data sets adjust for inflation differently, so be sure to take that into account.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development website provides some economic data. What’s available is limited and of marginal relevance to this blog, but it may be useful for other purposes.

Energy Data

Another website I have used a lot is the Energy Information Administration. The EIA publishes statistical information about the consumption, production, and availability of the nation’s energy, in all of its many forms. Statistical data regarding consumption of crude oil, gasoline, natural gas, and electricity is available here. The emphasis is on current weekly and monthly data. However, summary and historical data are also available.

I found summary information about individual states in the State Energy Profiles and State Electricity Profiles. The easiest way to find these is to google “[Your State] State Energy Profile,” or “[Your State] State Electricity Profile.” To browse to the State Energy Profile, I followed this path: EIA Home Page » Geography – U.S. States » Missouri (click on the map) » Print State Energy Profile.

To browse to historical data, I used this path: EIA Home Page » Geography – U.S. States » Energy Estimates (SEDS) – 1960-2011 Estimates. The “State Energy Data System (SEDS)” page that opens provides access to historical data on a variety of topics. (You can also access SEDS reports from each state page.)

Electricity data includes data on a variety of generation sources, so it is a useful study separate from overall energy consumption. To browse to state electricity profiles I followed this path: EIA Home Page » Geography – U.S. States » State Electricity Summaries. On the resulting “State Electricity Profiles” page, to get a full report of all State Electricity Profiles, I selected that option on the top right. To get a single state, I selected “Missouri” from the list of states. I then had the option of using the web page that opened, or downloading a PDF version of the Missouri profile.

For historical data on electricity, I followed this path: EIA Home Page » Electricity (at the very bottom of the page) » Data. On the Electricity Data page that opened, I could choose from a very wide variety of options. I found no substitute for reading through them carefully and selecting the one that most closely matched the information I wanted.

Land, Land Use, and Water Data

The USGS has been a source for several different kinds of information. I have used it for water consumption, river flow data, and land cover-land use maps. The easiest way to find this data is follow the links in the blog posts or construct a Google search. To browse for specific information, have used the list of “Science Topics” on the right side of the USGS Home Page to select the kind of information I seek. A page of results popped up, and I have used the list of subtopics near the top to refine my search. I also got to some of this data using links on the Missouri DNR website (see below).

Air Quality

Air quality data is monitored by state and local programs, but the data is maintained by the EPA in the AirData database. I googled AirData directly, or followed this path: EPA Home Page » Science and Technology » Air » AirData. Once at the AirData web page, I was able to choose the type of information I wanted.

I found information about specific air quality monitoring stations on the Missouri DNR website: Missouri DNR Home Page » Air Information (in the list on the right) » Air Monitoring Sites » [click on map to select region » [click on individual monitoring site].

Abandoned Mine Lands

The Department of the Interior maintains a database of abandoned mine lands, together with their remediation status and budget status – the e-AMLIS Database. I googled it directly, or navigated the following path: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Home Page » Reclaiming Abandoned Mine Lands » Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (e-AMLIS) » Summaries » Enter. This path took me to the data portal of the e-AMLIS system, where I constructed my query to obtain the information I desired. See also reports available on the Missouri DNR website.

Superfund Sites and Toxic Releases

The EPA operates the national Superfund program and maintains a database of Superfund sites. To navigate to the database, I followed this path: EPA Home » Learn the Issues » Land and Cleanup » Superfund » National Priorities List » Where You Live » Region 7.

The EPA keeps the Toxics Release Inventory, a database of sites that do or have in the past released toxic substances. You can google “TRI Explorer” directly. I was able to browse to it by following this path: EPA Home Page » Science and Technology » Substances and Toxic Science » Toxics Release Inventory » Find Tools for TRI Data Analysis » TRI Explorer. Use the data portal to construct a query to find the information you want.

Reports are also available on the Missouri DNR website.

Pollution, Geology, Toxics, Hazardous Waste, Brownfields, Land Reclamation, Water Resources, Water Quality, and Solid Waste

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources provided access to many useful reports on its website, and also linked to relevant federal reports and databases. The DNR provides information on pollution and its control (so many types of pollution), Missouri’s geology (think fossil fuels and mining), toxic releases, hazardous waste, brownfield cleanup, land reclamation, water resources, water quality, and solid waste. I found some of the reports by looking directly under the “Publications” tab on their website, others by looking on the web pages of specific programs. The information on this website has tended to be reports, not databases, and so it has been among the easiest to understand that I’ve found.

Forests and Invasive Species

The Missouri Department of Conservation publishes many free publications and scientific reports. I found free publications under the “Publications” tab at the top of the MDC Home Page, and scientific reports under the “About Us” tab. Their material tended to focus on “how to” sheets, fact sheets, and very focused, specific scientific issues, not on comprehensive surveys of Missouri’s environment.

I have found information about Missouri’s forests at the USDA National Forest Service, especially the Forest Service Northern Research Station. I found their information by searching on their Publications & Data webpage: Northern Research Station Home Page » Publications & Data. Here is where I found the Missouri’s Forest Resource Assessment and Strategy, and also information about invasive species.

Maps

Several of my posts have included land use-land cover maps generated using GIS systems and satellite data. This has required a GIS program on my computer (inexpensive ones are available). The maps have come from a variety of sources. Local planning authorities often use them, and I found some for the St. Louis region on the website of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

The best resource I found for statewide maps and the data files themselves, however, were two programs at the University of Missouri: The Missouri Spatial Data Information Service (MSDIS), and the Missouri Resource Analysis Partnership (MoRAP). To browse a list of maps available from MSDIS, I followed this path: MSDIS Home Page » Browse & Download. To browse a list of maps available from MoRAP, I follwed this path: MoRAP Home Page » Maps. The USGS also has maps (see above).

Summary

I have used many other resources for information about Missouri’s environment in addition to the ones discussed above. The ones described above are the ones that have returned to repeatedly, however. I hope this information is useful. It seems pretty dry, but if you need some specific information, and you haven’t found it yet, it may help to point the way.


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