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Ecosystems Research


Water research conducted at EPA focuses on developing sustainable solutions to water resource problems, and ensuring water quality and availability in order to protect human and ecosystem health. EPA scientists are developing tools and methods for detecting chemicals, bacteria, and other waterborne pathogens found in ground water, drinking water, and recreational water. Additionally, scientists are working on preventative measures in an effort to reduce the risks posed to humans and animals exposed to unhealthy water.

Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment

Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment, or QMRA, is an approach that brings together information from epidemiology studies, dose/response models, and exposure data to determine the probability of human infection due to exposure to waterborne pathogens. EPA scientists are using a QMRA approach in sampling urban and agricultural runoff discharges in streams and other water bodies. Information from this research is expected to improve scientific understanding of relationships between sources of specific disease producing pathogens and fecal contamination at watershed scales.

Ubertool: Ecological Risk Web Application for Pesticide Modeling

EPA scientists have developed a prototype cloud computing-base knowledge management system to support ecological risk decisions mandated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Endangered Species Act. The “ubertool” dashboard infrastructure integrates the processing of model results for over a dozen commonly-used EPA aquatic and terrestrial regulatory models and supporting datasets.

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.

Urban Detention Ponds

EPA scientists have created a detention pond downstream of several acres of paved parking and roofed buildings outside the agency’s facility in Athens, Ga. Scientists have been using the pond to understand the system’s dynamics, the flow and retention of water that sustains aquatic and vegetative life, the types of plants and animals that colonize in or near the pond, and the conditions necessary for their survival. The effort has involved monitoring pond hydrology and water quality conditions, as well as maintaining a count of plants and animals inhabiting the area.

Data for Environmental Modeling (D4EM)

Data for environmental modeling, or D4EM, is a comprehensive set of tools that obtains and processes environmental data for mathematical models. D4EM is a programming library with a component-based architecture that can be integrated with other modeling applications. Programmers can use D4EM to perform data management and processing tasks inside a specialized application. The user interacts with data through a customized MapWindow GIS user interface for obtaining and manipulating data, validating data for completeness, and generating model-specific data files.

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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