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Ecosystems Research


EPA exposure scientists are developing and evaluating methods, tools and predictive models that promote sustainable solutions for protecting human and ecosystem health. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment. EPA is making sustainability the next level of environmental protection by drawing on advances in science and technology.

Integrated Environmental Modeling

Integrated environmental modeling (IEM) is a new paradigm for conducting environmental assessments. EPA researchers collaborated with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a software-based infrastructure that facilitates integrated modeling. This infrastructure is called Framework for Risk Analysis in Multi-media Environmental Systems – or FRAMES – and has been extended to include two complementary technologies. Collectively, these technologies are state-of-the-art integrated environmental modeling systems that are currently applied in EPA research and regulatory applications.

Software System Interoperability

EPA scientists are conducting research to establish and promote best practices and standards for increasing software reuse and interoperability for integrated and environmental modeling. Researchers are currently working to document state-of-the-art practices in software development. Researchers are also developing proof-of-principle projects to demonstrate interoperability; and establishing best practices and standards for incorporation of interoperability and reuse in software development.

Green Infrastructure

To reduce environmental impacts and costs of managing stormwater, which can carry road pollutants, urban communities are increasingly installing green infrastructure that utilizes engineering techniques that mimic nature. EPA researchers are working to evaluate how different green infrastructure facilities, such as open forest spaces, rain gardens, porous pavements, cisterns, and grassy swales, control runoff-associated pollutants at the source.

Virtual Beach

When recreational waters are contaminated by bacteria and other microorganisms, beach managers need to act quickly to protect public health. EPA scientists developed Virtual Beach, a software suite that uses data on beach location, local hydrology, land use, wave height, and weather to create models that can predict bacteria and other waterborne pathogen outbreaks at saltwater and freshwater beaches before they happen. Using Virtual Beach, beach managers can issue same-day beach closures or health advisories to protect the health of swimmers and the surrounding community.

Safe, Sustainable Practices to Beneficially Reuse Materials and Wastes

EPA scientists are analyzing potential pollutant exposures from industrial waste by assessing human and ecosystem exposure during their treatment, storage and disposal, and also when these materials are reused in products. Using complex mathematical modeling systems, the scientists are studying the transport of potentially hazardous pollutants during their lifecycle to soil, water and air to assess how industrial byproduct reuse affects human and ecological exposure.

Watershed Health Assessment Tools Investigating Fisheries (WHATIF)

WHATIF is software that integrates a number of calculators, tools, and models for assessing the health of watersheds and streams with an emphasis on fish communities. The toolset consists of hydrologic and stream geometry calculators, a fish assemblage predictor, a fish habitat suitability calculator, macro-invertebrate biodiversity calculators, and a process-based model to predict biomass dynamics of stream biota. WHATIF also supports screening analyses, such as prioritizing areas for restoration and comparing alternative watershed and habitat management scenarios.

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