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An Exercise to Demonstrate the Value of Index Areas in a National Network: A Report Prepared for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

The Environmental Monitoring Team, a team of Federal scientists and program managers, was convened by the CENR Steering Committee and given the charge "to develop a national framework for integration and coordination of environmental monitoring and related research through collaboration and building upon existing networks and programs". Two of the recommendations for a National Environment Monitoring Framework were; 1) evaluate alternatives for selecting the number and distribution of "index areas", including stratification by ecoregion in order to provide the geographical coverage necessary for national assessments, stratification by known and anticipated environmental stresses, location along environmental gradients or transition zones between ecoregions, and unique aspects of terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine, and coastal ecosystems, 2) stablish a network of "index areas" by integrating existing intensive monitoring and research sites and adding new sites as needed to provide standard information on major independent and dependent environmental variables that are known to influence resource conditions.

The purpose of the index area network is to provide high-quality, long-term data on the spatial and temporal variation in major environmental driving variables ( e.g., nutrient inputs, climate, pollutants) that can be directly related to the responses of environmental properties of concern to society. These "areas" can link the broad-based inventories and surveys that provide information on resource status and trends and the research and modeling required to understand and predict the responses of resources to changing environmental conditions. Two issues were recommended for initial "index area" implementation based on environmental conditions with broad national relevance; 1) impacts of nutrient (i.e., nitrogen) imbalance on ecosystems, and 2) the status and health of wildlife populations. OSTP contracted with the University ofNew Mexico to: "Provide a report analyzing the role of a national network of index areas in complement to environmental monitoring information provided by surveys and remote sensing to answer policy-driven questions related to the health of the nation's ecosystems using the example of nitrogen cycling. Based on analysis of this example, the report shall consider the characteristics of an integrated national network that would inform a broad range of environmental issues"

James Gosz and Pete Murdoch identified an initial committee of experts that met and developed the approach for the exercise. A general question was posed; How does the ecosystem modulate the relationship between inputs and outputs of nitrogen? as well as a corollary; How do different stresses affect different ecosystems? This resulted in both a bottom-up and top-down approach that is required to understand the issue. The primary points of consensus of the meeting were the following. Index areas should be used for model development and extrapolation of process understanding to the regional scale. They also can add data from intensive research sites to regional/national monitoring programs. The watershed was seen as an essential building block for index area development for this exercise, acknowledging that the atmospheric scientists will need to work at the appropriate airshed scale to provide data on inputs to the chosen watersheds and to address specific air issues. Other questions may require additional spatial scales ( e.g., population distributions, human uses); however, the challenge will be to integrate these needs.