EnviroAtlas

Linking Up: Making Every Day Earth Day

By Tom Burke, Ph.D.

Today marks my first Earth Day as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. This is the one day of the year when people around the world unite to celebrate our planet, and I’m thrilled to be at a place where strengthening the links between a healthy environment and healthy communities are at the forefront of everything we do.

Eagle parents tend to their eaglets.

Eagle parents tend to their eaglets.

I began my day today checking in on the month-old eaglets up near Codorus State Park in Pennsylvania. The chicks are flourishing and provide a wonderful metaphor for the remarkable progress that has been made since the first Earth Day 45 years ago. What started as a collective unease about the state of local waterways, polluted lands, and haze-obscured views across urban neighborhoods was soon amplified in screaming national headlines about rivers on fire, and Rachel Carson’s best-selling book Silent Spring outlining the dangers of the indiscriminant use of the chemical pesticide DDT.

Such events helped spark the realization that when it comes to our environment, we are all in this together. And it was science—much of it led or conducted by EPA researchers—that taught us how to turn environmental concerns into action.

By understanding how particulate matter and other pollutants in the air relate to asthma rates and longevity, between lead exposure and childhood development, and between disease and contaminated water, local public health officials know what steps they can take to better protect people.

That track record for responsive science is why EPA labs are always among the first called when environmental emergencies strike, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or when harmful algal blooms threatened Toledo’s drinking water supply. EPA expertise is counted on to help local officials identify hazards, know what tests to conduct, and when to issue or lift health advisories.

And what’s more, that same expertise is also driving innovative research that is not only helping communities become more resilient today, but developing the tools, models, and solutions to lower risks and advance sustainability for the future. Just a small sampling of examples include:

  • Our researchers have teamed up with colleagues at NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop ways to tap satellite data to monitor water quality and better predict harmful algal blooms.
  • Empowering scientists and communities alike to tap a new generation of small, inexpensive, and portable air sensors to track air quality through The Village Green Project and others.
  • Our Healthy Heart campaign helps cardiac healthcare professionals use existing and emerging research to educate their patients about the link between air quality and their health—and to take action to avoid exposures during “ozone alert” days.
  • Advancing sophisticated computational toxicology methods and technologies through partnerships such as Tox21 to usher in a new paradigm of faster and far less expensive chemical screening techniques.
  • Providing data and mapping tools such as EPA’s EnviroAtlas that help community planners and other citizens identify, quantify, and sustain the many benefits they get from the natural ecosystems that surround them.

I started my own career conducting environmental investigations and epidemiological studies, and working closely with county and city health officials. These officials are on the front lines of environmental health and our communities depend upon them. Providing support by linking them to the data, tools, and innovative solutions mentioned above is one of my top priorities as EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for our Office of Research and Development.

That will take a continued commitment to communications and translation of our science to action, all part of keeping the critical link between a healthy environment and healthy people at the forefront of our thinking. Sharing our work with public health professionals is one way we can work together to make every day Earth Day. And that’s something we can all celebrate.

EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tom Burke

EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tom Burke

 

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development as well as EPA’s Science Advisor. Prior to coming to EPA, he served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Survive, Adapt, and Grow: EPA, Rockefeller Foundation Team Up for Resilient Cities

By Lek Kadeli

“City Resilience: The capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a system to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

Rainbow over a cityscape

EPA is a platform partner for 100 Resilient Cities.

EPA recently announced a partnership to help communities across the United States and around the world achieve that very definition of city resilience by supporting 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. Agency sustainability scientists and other experts will help urban communities take actions today to realize vibrant and healthy futures.

100 Resilient Cities was launched in 2013 to provide urban communities with access to a network of expertise, innovative tools, and models that will help them meet and bounce back even better from serious challenges—from chronic stresses such as air pollution and diminishing access to clean water, to more sudden events including floods, “superstorms” and other weather events, and acts of terrorism.

To support the partnership, EPA researchers will work directly with urban communities to share a variety of innovative tools and initiatives they have developed to meet just such challenges. For example:

  • The National Stormwater Calculator, an easy-to-use, online tool will help communities effectively tap innovative green infrastructure techniques to reduce nutrient pollution and the risk of local flooding, while also planning for the increase of stormwater runoff that is expected due to climate change.
  • EnviroAtlas, is a multi-scale, geographical-based online mapping, visualization, and analysis tool that integrates more than 300 separate data layers on various aspects of how natural ecosystems benefit people. The tool provides communities with a resource for developing science-based, strategic plans that sustain the ability of “ecosystem services” to absorb and mitigate stresses—a critical aspect of resiliency.
  • The Triple Value Systems tool provides an interactive model built on the dynamic relationship among economic, societal, and environmental impacts. Simulations illustrate the tradeoff and benefits of different decisions, supporting consensus building in pursuit of sustainable, resilient communities.
  • Incorporating a new generation of low cost, portable, and low maintenance air quality sensors into community-based air quality monitoring and awareness resources, such as “The Village Green Project,” will help individuals take action to protect their health, and community leaders to reduce the impacts of poor local air quality.
  • CANARY Event Detection Software, developed by EPA researchers in partnership with colleagues from Sandia National Laboratories, is an early warning system for detecting contaminants in drinking water. Recognized as a top 100 new technology by R&D Magazine, it helps water utilities continually monitor for threats and take early action to minimize disruptions.
EPA's Village Green Project, a solar-topped bench with air sensors

The Village Green project

EPA’s leadership advancing the science of sustainability and resiliency makes us a natural fit for supporting 100 Resilient Cities. Joining the network of other “platform partners” will help us share our research results and best practices and expand the impact of what our partners and we learn. We are thrilled to be part of this important effort advancing more sustainable and resilient communities, and look forward to a future where cities across the globe survive, adapt, and grow—no matter what.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Unleashing Data for Sustainable, Healthy Communities

By Aaron Ferster

One of my first jobs was serving as the writer for a team developing a new bison exhibit at the National Zoo here in Washington, DC. Not only did I get to walk past elephants and zebras on the way to the office every morning, when I got there I spent time learning and writing about the fascinating history of an iconic western species.

Archival map illustrating bison population decline in  early 1900s.

“Extermination of the American Bison” prepared by W.T. Hornaday

An image from that work has stuck with me almost 20 years later: a map by zoo founder and conservationist William T. Hornaday: The Extermination of the American Bison. Simple, color-coded ranges, population estimates, and dates illustrated how the North American herd had been divided in two by the first transcontinental railroads, then assaulted by “the great slaughter” until few remained.

But we know now that the story of the American bison has a happier ending. The species has rebounded and today is counted in the hundreds of thousands.

I was thinking about the basic elements of that same story last week in a crowded hotel conference room hearing about the launch of the President’s “Ecosystem Vulnerability Climate Data Initiative” and its “Ecoinformatics-based Open Resources and Machine Accessibility (EcoINFORMA).”

At the event, EPA researcher Anne Neale explained how she and her partners have developed EnviroAtlas, a collection of interactive tools and resources that allow users to explore and visualize the many benefits people receive from nature, what she and other scientists refer to as “ecosystem services.” It also provides information linking the environment and human well-being, including the Eco-Health Relationship Browser tool, which shows how ecosystems contribute to human health.

Of course, instead of colored circles and herd numbers, EnviroAtlas combines multiple ecosystem-based data sets, sophisticated geographic information systems, and visualization tools to present fine-scaled, multilayered maps and other resources that people can download and use as they seek to make decisions that will keep their communities healthy and resilient.

EnviroAtlas, which includes more than 300 data layers, serves as the ecosystem services “resource hub” to the larger EcoINFORMA initiative, a data resource designed to facilitate assessments of the impact of climate change, pollution and other stressors on ecosystems, biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as assessments of management responses to such stressors.

EPA's EnviroAtlas

EPA’s EnviroAtlas

EnviroAtlas and Data.gov’s EcoINFORMA aim to provide the same insights that William T. Hornaday used some 130 years ago to understand the plight of the American bison. It’s a modern, high-tech approach to the same basic questions: how are today’s actions likely to impact future resources, what is the state of the environment, and what do we need to consider to make the best decisions for long-term sustainability and human well-being?

With EnviroAtlas and other resources, EPA researchers and their partners are working to help communities make the right decisions, and ensure that future generations can look back 130 years from today to the opening chapters of environmental stories that feature happy endings.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and development, and the editor of It All Starts with Science.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Happy Cities, Happy People

By Diane Simunek

Have you ever wondered what makes you happy? Is it the warm cup of coffee you enjoy in the morning or the feeling of coming home after a hard day’s work? Maybe it’s riding a bike around your neighborhood or watching your kids joyfully run around a playground. There’s no easy way to pinpoint what exactly makes you happy, but understanding the many complexities of what does is exactly what Charles Montgomery aims to do. Montgomery is the author of the award-winning book, Happy City, and he was also one of the keynote speakers at the EcoDistricts Summit that I was recently fortunate enough to attend.

In the spirit of creating happier and more sustainable cities, Montgomery discussed his research as exploring the intersections of urban design and the science of happiness, to create a new vision for future cities. His opening remarks set the tone for the summit ahead.

During our "urban lab" field trip.

During our “urban lab” field trip.

The three-day conference consisted of a variety of approaches for sharing information amongst the diverse attendees. I attended educational seminars, discussion groups, and a research forum. I met urban planners, lawyers, government officials, scientist, and students, all working toward a similar cause. I even went on a field trip that used DC as an “urban lab” where we saw the Linnean Park urban stream restoration project, visited the Sidwell Friends “Green” Middle School, and explored the RiverSmart Washington stormwater reduction project. The energy was invigorating and the conversations never ended.

What struck me most was the quantity of overlapping and complementary efforts being made, and hearing about the successes already achieved. When looking at these projects from start to completion, it’s clear that “It All Starts with Science.”

EPA research is only the beginning of the process, and it is sometimes easy to lose sight of how much positive impact the tools that we develop have down the road. For example, EPA researchers attending the summit demonstrated the EnviroAtlas, a user-friendly mapping tool. The number of requests for collaboration afterwards was astonishing. Research is important and EPA is working hard to provide it for our communities.

The summit ended with keynote speaker Jason Roberts, co-creator of The Better Block. He said “stop cheerleading, start championing” and although cheerleading is great, I think we can all agree doing is even better. Just like EPA is doing research, I encourage everyone to do their part, working towards a happier and more sustainable society. You can even start thinking about what makes you happy during your next cup of coffee.

About the Author: Diane Simunek is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Teaming Up with Science Teachers

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

“One afternoon my high school physics teacher said, ‘Wow, you’re picking this up a lot faster than you realize, and you might have a knack for this.’ That comment sort of lit off a bell for me.”

If you ask an EPA researcher to share what first inspired them to pursue their current career, there’s a good chance they will point to a teacher or professor who sparked their budding passion in science, technology, engineering, or math with an interesting class experiment or some words of wisdom.

EPA's Gayle Hagler, Ph.D. shares her science at a science and engineering festival.

Environmental engineer Gayle Hagler shares her science. Learn more about how to incorporate her’s and other EPA science into the classroom.

EPA environmental engineer Dr. Gayle Hagler, who will be returning the favor in one of the webinars below, can remember the exact day that her teacher inspired her. “One afternoon my high school physics teacher said, ‘Wow, you’re picking this up a lot faster than you realize, and you might have a knack for this.’ That comment sort of lit off a bell for me.”

Dr. Hagler and other Agency researchers are joining forces with The National Science Teachers Association, the world’s largest organization of science teachers, to share their personal stories about the work they do helping to protect human health and the environment.

The Association’s online learning center offers free, 90-minute, web-based, interactive, live seminars featuring scientists, engineers, and education specialists from their partner organizations. The goal is to unite science teachers with nationally acclaimed experts to help them develop fun and exciting ways to engage their students in science.

Check out these three webinars presented by EPA researchers to learn more about tools you can use in and outside the classroom.

 

  • Do-It-Yourself Air Monitoring: Explore the Atmosphere and Turn on Light Bulbs!
    Date: Thursday, September 25, 2014
    Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
    How many tiny particles are in one cubic centimeter of air? What’s the difference between “good” ozone and “bad” ozone? In this webinar, Dr. Gayle Hagler will explore what’s in the air we breathe; how and why scientists measure air pollution, and the growing popularity of citizen science. You will learn a fun hands-on activity for students to build their own air monitor that uses the latest micro sensors to measure particle pollution, commonly known as dust, and turn on light bulbs based on the level in the atmosphere! Learn more.
  • Get Energized: Interactive Generate! Game Explores Energy Choices and Environmental Quality
    Date: Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
    How do we understand the costs and benefits of the energy choices we make? What happens if the mix of energy sources changes in the future? What does this all mean for our climate, air, water, and overall environmental quality? In this webinar, Dr. Rebecca Dodder will present some of tools EPA scientists are developing to help states, communities and Tribes make decisions about energy use now and in the future. It will also introduce an interactive board game developed by EPA scientists called Generate! that encourages students to explore energy choices and the environment. Learn more.
  • Exploration and Discovery through Maps: Teaching Science with Technology
    Date: Thursday, November 13, 2014
    Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
    Are you interested in using maps to engage students in science? EPA’s EnviroAtlas tool uses a combination of maps, analysis tools, fact sheets, and downloadable data to help users understand the interactions between people and the environment. Users of all skill levels can access hundreds of maps embracing a range of disciplines including biology, chemistry, geography, and environmental science. In this webinar EPA researchers Anne Neale and Jessica Daniel will give you a first-hand look at all the resources EnviroAtlas has to offer. Learn more.

 

Below are a few more things our researchers shared on “EPA Scientists@Work” about how teachers inspired them.

I had a wonderful 10th grade high school chemistry teacher who instilled in me a love for chemistry. I knew after that class that chemistry was what I wanted to study in college.

In the early 1960s, there was a television show called Gilligan’s Island, and the character I most identified with was the professor. He was making coconut radios and figuring out meteorological events and developing new things, all in the hope of getting them off the island. The professor was a role model. Here was a guy on an island without any tools and he was trying to make a difference. I wanted to be the guy who could look at problems and find solutions involving the use of science.

I knew around the start of high school. I took a lot of math courses and, thanks to some great teachers, I was really motivated to learn more math and science. By the time I was in the tenth grade, I narrowed it down to chemical engineering.

When I was in fifth grade, I had an outstanding teacher. He did all kinds of hands-on experiments in the classroom. In one particular experiment, he separated the class into three groups where one group washed their hands with soap and water, one group washed their hands with just water, and one did nothing. The group who only washed their hands with water had by far, the most bacteria on their hands. The water just mobilized the bacteria off of their fingers. Those experiences really got me interested in science.

I was very curious as a child and always wanted to know why and how things work. My “aha moment” was probably during my freshman year in high school when one of my science teachers told me that I should study engineering—specifically chemical engineering—since I was a good math and science student.

Probably junior year of high school. My teachers were inspirational role models, and I enjoyed all of my classes. By senior year I was intrigued by practical applications of math and science, and started to think about engineering as a career path.

I’ve been interested in science since my 9th grade earth science class. It was the first time I got to do experiments and see that I could learn different things about the world through experiments.

A lot of my interest in science came from my dad, who was a physicist and professor at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. I always wanted to be like my dad.

Do you have a similar memory of a favorite science teacher or class? Please share in the comments below!

About the Author: Writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a member of the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a student contractor. When asked about her own science education, she replied: “I had a really cool forensics science class in school!”

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Along the Road to Sustainability

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership. 

By Bob Perciasepe

Bob Perciasepe official portraitTechnology and open access to data and tools have ended the excruciating choice that generations of unsure car travelers have sometimes faced: forge ahead just a few more miles, or stop and ask for directions? Such stress has largely faded with the advent of dashboard-mounted, satellite-enabled navigation systems and readily available smartphone applications.

Getting to your desired destination is always easier when you have the right information at your disposal. That’s why today I’m excited to announce that EPA has released a tool to help environmental decision makers and local communities navigate toward a more sustainable future: EnviroAtlas.

Read the rest of the post. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Along the Road to Sustainability

By Bob Perciasepe

Technology and open access to data and tools have ended the excruciating choice that generations of unsure car travelers have sometimes faced: forge ahead just a few more miles, or stop and ask for directions? Such stress has largely faded with the advent of dashboard-mounted, satellite-enabled navigation systems and readily available smartphone applications.

Getting to your desired destination is always easier when you have the right information at your disposal. That’s why today I’m excited to announce that EPA has released a tool to help environmental decision makers and local communities navigate toward a more sustainable future: EnviroAtlas.

More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.