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Ecosystems Research

Integrated Environmental Modeling

Issue
Integrated environmental modeling (IEM) is a new paradigm for conducting environmental assessments. The complexity of modern environmental problems, decisions, and policies requires EPA scientists to consider the environment in a holistic manner. Integrated environmental modeling allows scientists to use cross-disciplinary science and computer capabilities to characterize problems by:

  • Geographic scale;
  • The dynamic and interdependent nature of chemical and physical stressors and their impacts on humans and the environment;
  • Stakeholder diversity at local, state, and national levels; and
  • Social, economic, and political issues fundamental to making sustainable decisions.

The science-based structure of the integrated environmental modeling paradigm will allow researchers to develop and organize relevant information to explore, explain, and forecast environmental systems’ behavior in response to human and natural sources of stress.

Integrated environmental modeling faces many challenges in the science, technology, and community fields. On the science side, it is necessary to integrate knowledge from many disciplines for a single, coherent view of the human-environment system. Computer-based technologies are how integrated environmental modeling knowledge is expressed and applied. These technologies are evolving rapidly and require sophisticated strategies to utilize available software and hardware.

And finally, to fully realize its promise, integrated environmental modeling will require “communities of practice” to become more central in developing solutions to complex problems. This means recognizing that standardization on how data are accessed and how modeling is executed is necessary to maximize cross-utilization of modeling technologies by different organizations.

Action
EPA researchers in Athens, Ga., collaborated with U.S. Department of Energy to develop a software-based infrastructure that facilitates integrated modeling, called the Framework for Risk Analysis in Multimedia Environmental Systems (FRAMES)— the infrastructure has been extended to include two complementary technologies:

  • SuperMUSE (Supercomputer for Model Uncertainty and Sensitivity Evaluation), and
  • D4EM (Data for Environmental Modeling).

Collectively, these technologies are state-of-the-art integrated environmental modeling systems currently applied in EPA research and regulatory applications.

EPA scientists have also helped organize integrated environmental modeling organizations to promote best practices. In 2001, modelers from EPA’s Athens facility, along with nine other Federal agencies initiated the Interagency Steering Committee for Multimedia Environmental Modeling (ISCMEM). In conjunction with EPA’s Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling (CREM), EPA researchers later helped form the international equivalent known as the Community of Practice for Integrated Environmental Modeling (CIEM). Both organizations continue to broaden in membership and offer effective means for sharing knowledge and technology related to integrated environmental modeling.

Results and Impact
EPA researchers in Athens are recognized leaders in the field of integrated environmental modeling. The suite of technologies, FRAMES-SuperMUSE-D4EM, has provided modeling solutions for several EPA initiatives, including EPA’s Hazardous Waste Identification Rule (HWIR), Mountaintop Mining regulations, and analyses of pathogen movement from watersheds to coastal recreational areas.

Technical Team - Gerry Laniak (team contact), Gene Whelan, Justin Babendreier, Kurt Wolfe, Rajbir Parmar, Mike Galvin, Craig Barber

Collaborations

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