Home » 4. Finding Environmental Reports (updated 8/19/2018)

4. Finding Environmental Reports (updated 8/19/2018)

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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 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 pedantic and dull, but for those who are trying to find sources for publicly available environmental information, maybe it will be helpful. This page is an update to one first wrote this in 2013. Keep in mind that websites are constantly changing, 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.

I have organized the following by the following topics:

  • Climate data
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Population, housing, and some economic data
  • Economic data
  • Energy data
  • Land use and water data
  • Air quality
  • Abandoned mine lands
  • Superfund and toxic chemical releases
  • Pollution, Geology, Toxics, Hazardous Waste, Brownfields, Land Reclamation, Water Resources, Water Quality, and Solid Waste
  • Forests and invasive species
  • Maps

Climate Data

I report climate data more than any other kind. I piece it together from two sets of sources. One important set of sources are the National Weather Service Forecast Offices for specific regions. Each office provides historical data for the region in which it is located. What is provided, and what format it is in, varies from office-to-office, however.

Taking St. Louis as an example, I have followed this path: NWS Forecast Office St. Louis Home Page » Climate and Past Weather » Local. Each weather station maintains slightly different records. In St. Louis, the best tabular information is under “Local Data/Records >> Climate Data” but the best graphs are under “Local Data/Records >> 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.

The best source I have found for global, national and state (and sometimes local) climate data is the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEA), which used to be called the National Climate Data Center. 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 use the “Climate at a Glance” database portal a great deal. It provides historical temperature, precipitation, heating & cooling degree days, and drought index information. It is easy to use. You can filter by which climate variable you want, 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 a table of the information. I have navigated along this path: NCEA Home Page » Climate at a Glance. Or just google “Climate at a Glance.”

Lots of organizations and individuals do climate studies. In my opinion, the two most important are the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their most recent reports are available on their home page. Google IPCC. The second are the national assessments of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). To navigate to these reports, follow this path: USGCRP Home Page » Browse and Find Resources, Data & Multimedia. With large reports like this, often select important graphics are made available in separate image files.

The World Meteorological Organization publishes an annual “WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin,” which comes out each fall. And the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society publishes an annual “State of the Climate,” which tends to come out in August. Find them by googling for them.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The United States conducts an annual greenhouse gas inventory, and it is available on the EPA website. Google “US greenhouse gas inventory.” Otherwise, the Trump Administration has suppressed information about climate change that used to be easy to find on the EPA website, and I can no longer find it. If there is something specific you want (for instance, the global warming potential of various gases, or the CO2 intensity of a specific kind of fuel) the best strategy will probably be to google it, or follow a link embedded in another source.

 

The Energy Information Administration publishes data about GHGs emitted by energy combustion, especially by the electricity industry. The main page for this information can be reached via Energy Information Administration >> Topics >> U.S. Energy Related CO2 Emissions at the State Level. It can also be accessed from individual state energy profiles, but the route is complex.

To my knowledge, the last GHG emissions inventory conducted by the State of Missouri was in 1990, with an update dated 1996. I can no longer find it on the Internet. If you need a copy, contact me at mogreenstats@gmail.com.

Some local inventories 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.

The CARMA database of powerplants was last published in 2012, and it appears to no longer be available. It’s a shame, as it was a very valuable resource, listing data on every large power plant in the USA.

Population, Housing, and Some Economic Data

Sometimes I want to translate data in total amounts into amounts per capita, which requires population data. 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 and analysis, however. A census is done every 10 years, and annual data is estimated from smaller surveys. Estimates tend to be compiled into 10-year sets (between each census), and historical sets are not easy to find.

One vehicle is the “Quick Facts” feature, which I found on their home page. Pick a state (Missouri, of course), and up pops a selection of 52 characteristics for Missouri and the USA. They range 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.

The main navigation tool is currently (8/19/18) located at the bottom of the home page. One feature is the American FactFinder. I have been interested in environmental trends over time, so I have been interested in population changes over time. Perhaps I’m just not good at it yet, but I can’t find information older than the last census on the American FactFinder.

Look in individual posts on this blog for direct links to this information. For data through 1990, look on the historical data page of the 1990 census. I don’t know how to browse to it, but the URL is: https://www.census.gov/population/www/censusdata/hiscendata.html. Many different reports are available on this page, and you just have to explore them to find the one that best fits your needs.

Another place to look for historical census data is the Statistical Abstract of the United States. It is published every decade. The path to it is: Census.gov >> Library >> Publications >> Publications by series >> Statistical abstract series.

I have never found a data series that combines historical data through the 2010 census, much less more recent population estimates. To produce those series for my posts, I construct them from multiple series.

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 is in a text format. In other words, the numbers are not formatted into a table. Instead, they are text strings that use 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 apps available for purchase or 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 open the text file in a word processor (I use Word), and delete everything except the table I want. Then I use Word’s Find and Replace function to eliminate multiple spaces until there is only 1 space between each column in each row. (In the Find field, I type 5 spaces. In the Replace field I type 1 space. I select “Replace All.” This replaces instances of 5 spaces with a single space. I repeat this process until Word finds no more instances of 5 spaces. Then I repeat the procedure with 4 spaces until Word finds no more instances of 4 spaces, then 3, and finally with 2. This leaves a document with only 1 space between each column.) Then I use the Find and Replace function to replace spaces with tabs. That leaves a table with columns separated by a single tab, just what Excel wants. I save my work, then output a copy of the file as a text file. I input 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. Sometimes I find it better to work directly with the Census Bureau web site, other times with the Missouri Census Data Center.

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. This data is easy to find: BEA.gov » Data >> By place >> States and territories >> GDP by state >> Interactive data:GDP by state >> Annual gross domestic product (by state). It provides 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, and the two main purposes are for market pricing and supply security. 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 state information for every state, follow this route: Energy Information Administration >> Sources & Uses >> Geography >> State Energy Data System (SEDS). SEDS provides access to historical data on a variety of topics. (You can also access SEDS reports from each state page, or google it.)

Electricity data includes data on a variety of generation sources, and that is a useful study separate from overall energy consumption. Find the state electricity profiles and data the same way, by navigating to SEDS.

Links to historical data on Missouri’s energy and electricity can be found in the state’s energy and electricity profile. Or you can go directly through the EIA home page >> Sources & Uses.

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. For water consumption, the USGS publishes a report on Estimated Use of Water in the United States for (YEAR). Google “USGS estimated water use.”

For river flow data, google “USGS river flow.” It will take you to the USGS Current Water Flow for the Nation page. Here, you use a data portal to query for either historical time series or current conditions. Another way to find this data is follow the links in the blog posts or construct a Google search. For instance, googling for “Missouri River water level” will return hits that link to USGS data for specific water gauges on the river.

To browse for information on other topics, I 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. Google “EPA Air Data.” Once at the Air Data web page, I was able to choose the type of information I wanted. I use the “Air Quality Index Report” most often.

I found information about specific air quality monitoring stations on “Statewide Network of Air Monitoring Sites,” a page on the Missouri Department of Natural Resources website:  https://dnr.mo.gov/env/esp/aqm/critmap.htm.

Monitoring for background air pollution is conducted by the CASTNET program. You won’t find it by googling for background air pollution. Go to the CASTNET home page at https://www.epa.gov/castnet. There, you can choose several different types of data to download, depending on which best fits your needs.

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. Google it directly. There you can enter data portal of the e-AMLIS system, where you can construct your query to obtain your information. 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.gov » Environmental topics » Land, Waste, and Cleanup » Superfund cleanup program » National Priorities List.

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.gov » Environmental topics >> Chemicals and toxics >> Toxics release inventory >> Get TRI data >> TRI Explorer. This is a data portal providing the most frequently sought TRI data. However, other data portals beside TRI Explorer are available on the Get TRI Data page.

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 is a fine agency, and a model for other agencies across the country. Its goals and purposes, however are to facilitate the opportunity for all citizens to “use, enjoy, and learn” about Missouri’s fish, forests, and animals. If you think that means maximizing fishing, hunting, and economic potential, you might be on to something. They have an extensive library of scientific studies, and they cooperate closely with federal agencies such as the National Forest Service and the USGS. However, I have never found a web resource that provides access to their scientific library. I have been referred to their librarian, who wanted specific titles, and a fee. As I was looking for reports of interest, not specific titles, it was of no use to me, and I can’t provide information about the library.

I found free MDC publications under the “Publications” tab at the top of the MDC Home Page. 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.

They have opened a new research web site called MDC Research. The site clearly envisions that over time data sets will be added to it, but as of this date (8/19/18) only one has been posted: Missouri Timber Price Trends. Not exactly the focus of an environmentalist.

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). The USGS also has GIS maps available, and some of them are graphics files that don’t require a GIS program.

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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