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A common objective for a monitoring program is to characterize an environmental resource based on inference from the sites selected to be monitored to the entire target population. The scale of monitoring ranges from local studies, to regional monitoring, to nationwide monitoring programs. Rarely can these monitoring efforts monitor at all locations, or sites, within the study region. Consequently, a major consideration is how to select representative sites from which it is possible to make inferences to the entire study region.
In addition to the different spatial scales of interest across monitoring efforts, these studies may focus on different environmental resources. A state or province may be interested in all small lakes (e.g. < 10 ha) with the objective of classifying the lakes as meeting designated uses (i.e. having values of designated water quality attributes that do not exceed a specified threshold), partially meeting designated uses, or not meeting designated uses. In this case, the elements of the environmental resource are individual lakes and site selection is based on selecting a subset of lakes from the target population. Alternatively, a state may be interested in all perennial streams and rivers within the state to determine the total stream length that meets a nutrient criterion. In this case, the elements of the environmental resource are all possible locations on the stream and river network within the state and site selection is based on selecting sites on the stream network to be monitored. The stream network is the target population and is viewed as a continuous linear network. Finally, a state may be interested in monitoring a single large estuary within the state (e.g. Puget Sound in Washington State, USA) to determine the proportion of the estuarine area that has sediment contamination exceeding a criteria. In this case, the environmental resource, i.e. the target population, is an area and sites are selected from all possible locations within the estuarine surface area. Similar examples can be given for terrestrial environmental resources.
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