Some Observations on Measurement

The evolution of ecosystem service markets is dependent upon the ability to accurately measure.

In order to measure, a number of other issues become important. Scale, for example, is relevant to the level of precision. Temporal issues need to be considered because of the ‘changes’ that occur over time with what you are measuring.  In essence, any measurement is a function of a number of physical and chemical condtiona and properties.

Thanks to computers (and the people that concieved of and built them), we are able to model many of those spatial and temporal effects and can ‘measure.’ 

We’ve recently been involved in a number of issues with regional land surveyors. It would seem that with the advent of very high accuracy GPS, GIS, and database systems we would be able to make stable high accuracy ground measurements. Once those measurements are made, we would only need to remeasure if the physical conditions related to the measurements changed. Well, as it works out, the professional of land surveying rest on the fundamental premise that the ‘measurer’ is the standard for measurement …..not the physical measure itself.

I can understand that the history of land surveying is based upon judgements from previous physical descriptions of the land (‘twenty-seven steps east to maple tree’). In that historical context, the standard for measurement WAS the ‘measurer’s interpretation. Today, GPS, with proper control standards, allows the tool to be the standard, and that tool is more accurate than other human measuring methods.

All of this silly talk is merely to say that, as we are better able to measure and quantify environmental conditions and ecosystem services, we also need to be aware of existing historical standards and practices and be willing to ‘update’ those policies as we improve the environment by properly valuing it.