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ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING & ASSESSMENT PROGRAM (EMAP)
Change in ecological systems, including their structure and function, may result from multiple stressors across multiple scales and multiple pathways. As such, the many mechanisms by which stressors may act on or alter ecosystems are poorly understood, as are the immediate and long-term consequences of those alterations. Research is needed to better understand the health of the ecosystem and the potential impact of human activities on ecosystem health. Ecosystem condition must be adequately monitored to ensure integrity and sustainability. The Environmental Monitoring & Assessment Program (EMAP) is a major EPA research program whose purpose is to develop the science necessary for monitoring the health of our Nation's ecological resources (e.g., wetlands and estuaries). EMAP has established proof-of-concept studies at the local, watershed and state level of ecological assessments. NHEERL is involved in several components of EMAP research, including: 1) the development of biocriteria for aquatic resources, a critical component to the implementation of the Clean Water Act; 2) the evaluation of the condition of coastal ecosystems (coastal monitoring) under the Clean Water Action Plan (CWAP) issued in 1998; 3) an assessment of the results of the Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment (MAIA), which is being used to develop state-of-the-environment reports; and 4) a study of regional level problems resulting from regionally distributed stressors (the Western Pilot study). NOTE: A more detailed description of MAIA, including recent NHEERL accomplishments, is available at www.epa.gov/ord/publications under Research and Development 1997-98 Research Accomplishments.
Biocriteria: NHEERL is supporting the development of biocriteria by establishing reference conditions for streams and small rivers. Biocriteria research involves the establishment of a threshold for comparing ambient conditions. From these thresholds, biocriteria are then determined which serve as a measure of impairment to biota. This research will build on the experience gained from states and focus on developing an approach to establish rigorous and scientifically defensible biocriteria. Biocriteria will be developed for various aquatic resources, including coastal systems, estuaries and wetlands. Incorporating biocriteria into EMAP-type monitoring designs will be used by regions, States and Tribes to track the regional effectiveness of ecological management policies. (This aspect will be implemented through EMAP's Regional Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (R-EMAP). Methods for determining reference conditions will be field tested on a local level through the REMAP program.)
Coastal Monitoring: EMAP's coastal monitoring program will develop the first national environmental report card for coastal regions and provide EPA with baseline and trend analyses for determining important gaps in our understanding of the aquatic health of our nation's estuaries. Using probabilistic sampling designs and response indicators, our program will implement nationwide coastal monitoring technologies developed under EMAP and work directly with the Office of Water, Regional Offices, coastal states and tribes, and other federal agencies to transfer new monitoring designs to local monitoring programs. The current focus of the coastal program is estuaries, developing baselines for tracking performance of efforts to control excess nutrients and sediment contamination.
MAIA: A five-year study of all the states in EPA's Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic Region) has produced the first scientifically defensible ranking of point and non-point source stresses, invasive species and habitat disturbances with respect to their impacts on freshwater and marine communities. Geographic studies such as the MAIA focus on improving aquatic, estuarine, wetland, terrestrial, and landscape monitoring of regional conditions. MAIA demonstrated the efficacy of monitoring designs on a broad scale, and the utility of indicators of actual ecological effects of anthropogenic stresses. Research directions for MAIA will shift from data collection to assessment. A geographic focus to research will reduce scientific uncertainty and limitations in currently available monitoring designs, will significantly improve ecological assessments and risk management decisions, and will enable us to better monitor the condition of the environment and track the cumulative effectiveness of our management and policy.
Western Pilot: This new multi-year EMAP study was initiated in FY2000 to evaluate the ecological condition of the western U.S. in cooperation with EPA Regions 8, 9, and 10. Monitoring tools developed and used in the Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment (MAIA) will be adapted to the western ecosystems. The Western Pilot will test methods in the arid, grassland, and alpine ecosystem in western states, and provide EPA, states and tribes with interoperable monitoring designs. There are four major components of the Western Pilot: 1) landscape atlas for western states; 2) intensive monitoring in 3 priority watersheds: the Columbia River basin, Missouri river Basin, and San Francisco Bay region; 3) Pacific coast monitoring; and 4) west-wide study. EMAP is scheduled to complete the landcover classifications for the western states in early 2000. Surveys will be initiated in three large geographic ecoregions/watersheds in the west (Alaska, Hawaii in 2001) to test indicator performance and survey design.