Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
. 2012;7(8):e42128.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042128. Epub 2012 Aug 15.

Opportunities for Web-Based Indicators in Environmental Sciences

Free PMC article

Opportunities for Web-Based Indicators in Environmental Sciences

Sergio Malcevschi et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


This paper proposes a set of web-based indicators for quantifying and ranking the relevance of terms related to key-issues in Ecology and Sustainability Science. Search engines that operate in different contexts (e.g. global, social, scientific) are considered as web information carriers (WICs) and are able to analyse; (i) relevance on different levels: global web, individual/personal sphere, on-line news, and culture/science; (ii) time trends of relevance; (iii) relevance of keywords for environmental governance. For the purposes of this study, several indicators and specific indices (relational indices and dynamic indices) were applied to a test-set of 24 keywords. Outputs consistently show that traditional study topics in environmental sciences such as water and air have remained the most quantitatively relevant keywords, while interest in systemic issues (i.e. ecosystem and landscape) has grown over the last 20 years. Nowadays, the relevance of new concepts such as resilience and ecosystem services is increasing, but the actual ability of these concepts to influence environmental governance needs to be further studied and understood. The proposed approach, which is based on intuitive and easily replicable procedures, can support the decision-making processes related to environmental governance.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Conceptual model of the proposed approach.
The meta-knowledge area, where scientific knowledge is combined with general knowledge (at the top) is the basis of decisions that produce impacts on the environment (in the centre), which in turn contribute to systems evolution (at the bottom). This process produces new scientific knowledge.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Group average dendrogram of WICs output; similarity is computed on the percent ranking values of the 24 selected keywords.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Types of temporal trends obtained from the year-by-year searches in the Web of Science databases: results for 6 selected keywords.
Data are expressed as ratio over the maximum value, achieved in the year 2010.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Radar graphs of 7 selected keywords according to the following web-profile indicators: WOS.09–10%; WOS.V1; WOS.V2; WGY.en%; WGB.en%; (see Table 2 for labels).
The interpretation criteria are: (c1) relevance in the scientific context; (c2) current relevance in the world; (c3) relevance in the individual sphere; (c4) emerging and stabilised trends of dynamic variation. For each WIC, relative percent values over the total of 24 keywords are reported.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 2 articles


    1. Reid WV, Chen D, Goldfarb L, Hackmann H, Lee YT, et al. (2010) Earth system science for global sustainability: grand challenges. Science 330: 916–917. - PubMed
    1. Hood WW, Wilson CS (2001) The literature of bibliometrics, scientometrics, and informetrics. Scientometrics 52: 291–314.
    1. Moed HF, Glänzel W, Schmoch U (2004) Handbook of Quantitative Science and Technology Research, 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands 800.
    1. Nobis M, Wohlgemuth T (2004) Trend words in ecological core journals over the last 25 years (1978–2002). Oikos 106: 411–421.
    1. Leydesdorff L (2007) Betweenness centrality as an indicator of the interdisciplinarity of scientific journals. J Am Soc Inf Sci Tec 58: 1303–1319.

Publication types

Grant support

The study has been funded by Regione Lombardia, commissioning the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Pavia for studying ecological webs. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.