In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Environmental Electronic Sensing Systems

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Reference Works
  • Textbooks and Teaching Publications
  • Sensor Network Engineering

Geography Environmental Electronic Sensing Systems
Nicholas J. Kinar, John W. Pomeroy
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0231


Although environmental measurement instrumentation has been utilized by human civilizations for thousands of years, the use of electronics to conduct measurements closely parallels the development of electrical theory from the 19th century to the present. Environmental electronic sensing systems have been created to automate measurement tasks that are difficult for humans to repeat in a precise and synchronous fashion or to measure phenomena that cannot be manually observed at scales ranging from the microscopic to the planetary. The collection and recording of data at regular timesteps enable inputs to mathematical models that provide predictions and forecasts of environmental processes; moreover, these models can be used to better understand planetary systems. Data measurements conducted at different scales can be subjected to statistical or scaling analysis to provide gridded data sets for application of mathematical models. Point measurements made at a single geographic location provide calibration or validation for satellite remote sensing data products. Measurements made by different sensors can be utilized along with sensor fusion algorithms to calculate indexes or gridded data sets. The sources in this article have been selected to provide an overview of the sensors and associated sensing systems that measure components of the environment on or near the surface of the Earth. Each first-level heading demarcates different environmental components. The final section of the article provides a selection of references pertaining to the engineering of sensor networks that are used to obtain areal measurements of environmental processes. Each section contains a series of subsections that divide the literature according to the type of sensor or measurement. An emphasis is placed on the selection of references that provide insight into the measurement physics of the sensor and the environmental physics of the phenomena being measured. Moreover, references are selected that provide schematic diagrams and engineering design considerations suitable for replication and development of new sensors. Papers on sensor calibration and error analysis as well as case studies are included for operational use and field deployment applications. Due to the numerous papers that have been published on environmental sensing systems, it is not possible to cite all available literature pertaining to a certain type of sensor. To close gaps in the literature and to provide ideas for students, instrument developers, engineers, and environmental scientists, overview papers are also provided in this article. These overview papers often present ideas in a succinct fashion and the associated sensor mathematics, design, and signal processing are provided in a manner to enhance pedagogical value.

General Overviews and Reference Works

Publications listed in this section are useful for gaining a basic understanding of engineering principles related to environmental sensing systems and serve as a good starting point for graduate students, researchers, and system designers. Monographs that provide background information on the electronic engineering design of sensing systems include Harrison 2015; Down and Lehr 2004; and McManamon 2019. Middleton and Spilhaus 1953 is dated but provides information on how to conduct radiosonde measurements with atmospheric balloons. Herschy 1999 provides techniques useful for validation of electronic systems used to measure the hydrological cycle. Rango 1994; Schultz and Engman 2000; and Weng 2011 are excellent starting points for selecting remote sensing methods for measurement of environmental processes, whereas Rogers and Poziomek 1996 is useful for selecting a fiber-optic sensor for measurement of chemical processes.

  • Down, R. D., and J. H. Lehr, eds. Environmental Instrumentation and Analysis Handbook. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Interscience, 2004..

    DOI: 10.1002/0471473332

    Comprehensive book on the theory and design of optical, chemical, and water measurement instrumentation. Also discusses the role of measurement systems for regulatory use and monitoring of industrial emissions.

  • Harrison, G. Meteorological Measurements and Instrumentation. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2015.

    The monograph presents an extensive coverage of radiation and atmospheric measurement devices. A discussion of signal conditioning using an analog frontend and analog-to-digital conversion provides vital information for development of sensing systems. Data analysis techniques are provided and an appendix on how to write instrumentation research papers greatly contributes to the efficacy of this work.

  • Herschy, R. W., ed. Hydrometry: Principles and Practices. 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

    A useful monograph that discusses instrumentation for every component of the hydrological cycle. Measurement instruments for river hydraulics, precipitation, and groundwater are described. The work includes chapters on data processing and measurement uncertainties.

  • McManamon, P. F. LiDAR Technologies and Systems. Bellingham, WA: SPIE, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1117/3.2518254

    Broad reference work that covers the history of LIDAR systems, range equations, sources, and different designs. This is useful for optical engineering applications or LIDAR development.

  • Middleton, W. E., and A. F. Spilhaus. Meteorological Instruments. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1953.

    Covers basic ground-based instruments and also radiosondes for remote measurement of atmospheric phenomena.

  • Rango, A. “Application of Remote Sensing Methods to Hydrology and Water Resources.” Hydrological Sciences Journal 39.4 (1994): 309–320.

    DOI: 10.1080/02626669409492752

    Introductory overview that describes remote sensing concepts from a 20th-century perspective.

  • Rogers, K. R., and E. J. Poziomek. “Fiber Optic Sensors for Environmental Monitoring.” Chemosphere 33.6 (1996): 1151–1174.

    DOI: 10.1016/0045-6535(96)00255-X

    Review paper with a focus on spectrometer chemical sensing of environmental constituents.

  • Schultz, G. A., and E. T. Engman, eds. Remote Sensing in Hydrology and Water Management. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-59583-7

    This book indicates how remote sensing can provide data products for mathematical models of hydrological processes.

  • Weng, Q., ed. Advances in Environmental Remote Sensing: Sensors, Algorithms, and Applications. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2011.

    Featuring a compilation of sections written by different scholars, this book provides an overview of satellite remote sensing sensors and algorithms used for measurement and monitoring of vegetation and land surface processes.

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