A block diagram shows an urban area and its environmental setting.
ICEMM conducts collaborative studies of modeling and monitoring of interrelated natural and human systems. Here a block diagram of a conceptual landscape shows how groundwater and surface water interact. Credit: USGS

A number of U.S. federal agencies cooperate in research, development, and sharing of environmental models, software, and databases through the Interagency Collaborative for Environmental Modeling and Monitoring (ICEMM). These agencies are the National Science Foundation, Geoscience Directorate; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Engineer Research and Development Center; the U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research program; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development; the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS); and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC), Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research.

ICEMM has been in existence since 2001 and aims to establish working partnerships, reduce redundancies, and improve common technology across these federal agencies. To improve communication and facilitate these goals, the organization holds an annual public meeting.

The theme of the 2018 meeting was “Monitoring and Model Data Fusion.” Fusion involves processing and synthesizing data sources into a unified model database, with the model informing monitoring programs as to what, when, where, and how the data are to be obtained and translated into modeling assumptions and inputs, such as boundary conditions and parameters.

The meeting included two keynote presentations. The first, given by Pierre Glynn, the water cycle branch chief of USGS, was titled “From Data to Decisions: Framing the Science and Policy of Coupled Human-Natural Systems.” The second, called “Earth Intelligence: The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the National Water Model, and the Future of Water Prediction,” was given by Don Cline, USGS’s associate director for water. Other invited speakers and panelists hailed from ICEMM federal agencies, the U.S. Global Research Program, the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, and the University of South Carolina.

A complex adaptive systems approach is needed for environmental modeling and monitoring.

In addition, ICEMM’s four working groups delivered status reports. These working groups focus on integrated monitoring and modeling; data assimilation, uncertainty assessment, and model confirmation; forecasting ecosystem functions and services; and watershed and surface-water quality modeling. Working group membership is open, and readers are invited to become involved.

A primary meeting outcome was the conclusion that a complex adaptive systems approach is needed for environmental modeling and monitoring. This approach requires considering both human and natural dimensions to provide an integrated understanding for managing the world’s complex problems (e.g., food, energy, water).

In addition, much discussion involved data and technology advances in the context of the unprecedented speed of technological breakthroughs, such as new capabilities in monitoring (e.g., with crowdsourcing sensors and robotics) and simulating (e.g., with cloud and supercomputing) ecosystem processes. The importance of standards was emphasized for format, communication ontology, and metadata to increase reusability and reproducibility for open-source, scalable modeling and data tools.

Panelists encouraged ICEMM to consider “science-infused adaptive governance,” where coordinated data and models are tailored to specific challenges such as emergency response.

As an example of interagency collaboration, attendees highlighted the ongoing development of water models to simulate dynamics of vegetation, nutrients, and contaminants by the USACE Hydrologic Engineering Center and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Agriculture. Communication with stakeholders was a recurring important topic, and panelists encouraged ICEMM to consider “science-infused adaptive governance,” where coordinated data and models are tailored to specific challenges such as emergency response.

More information on ICEMM, including the meeting presentations, can be found on the meeting’s website.  Membership inquiries should be directed to Pierre Glynn, USGS and ICEMM chair (email: PGlynn@usgs.gov).

—Brenda Rashleigh (email: rashleigh.brenda@epa.gov), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Narragansett, R.I.; and Thomas Nicholson, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Rockville, Md.


Rashleigh, B.,Nicholson, T. (2018), Agencies collaborate to better monitor and model the environment, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO106651. Published on 01 October 2018.

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