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Energy and Environment Directorate
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Staff Accomplishments

Flexible FRAMES

March 2004
The Environmental Technology Directorate at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed Version 2.0 of FRAMES, an easy-to-use software that allows regulators and environmental cleanup specialists to assess the risk from pollutants in days or weeks, instead of months or years. With its advanced flexibility, FRAMES 2.0 can integrate resident models with new models and databases. It also can incorporate models from the past 20 years. The Framework for Risk Analysis Multimedia Environmental Systems, or FRAMES for short, is a flexible and holistic approach to understanding how industrial activities affect people and the environment. It can incorporate a vast array of software models and databases, from off-the-shelf data sets of wind speeds to custom-built groundwater movement at a government site. Incorporating such an array of information allows for a very tailored analysis. For example, the Department of Defense used FRAMES to model the movement of certain chemicals in the soil, water, and air at several of its bases. By linking in detailed databases and models of the bases with other environmental codes, they quickly created the right modeling system in FRAMES. The information they gained helped them to understand the movement of these chemicals and reduce the risk to their staff. Designed for simplicity of use, FRAMES allows people to focus on the models and the data, not the interface. For each scenario of contaminant movement, the FRAMES user selects icons representing the models and databases they want and creates a holistic model that is graphically displayed. Each time a parameter or a scenario changes, the user simply adds the new data and presses the “go” button. Because the models and databases are easily managed through FRAMES, the user has far less risk of using old, out-of-date information. In addition, FRAMES saves time and money by allowing researchers to drag and drop the information they need for each scenario. No specialized programming knowledge is needed. Other software systems require specially trained programmers to add each model and database, which is expensive and time consuming. Today, FRAMES is used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DOD, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Department of Energy. FRAMES is also being used by domestic industrial and international clients. In addition, PNNL researchers use the system to conduct risk analysis and reviews for these clients. The concept of FRAMES arose from environmental modeling and assessment research conducted at PNNL back in 1982. The development of FRAMES was funded by direct funds from DOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency starting in 1997. Updates and new versions of the system are funded by the original and new customers, and supported by laboratory-directed research and development grants. The design team for FRAMES involves a very diverse set of talents, including risk modelers, computer programmers, and communicators. The team hopes to see other applications for their system and is currently working to integrate models and databases for biological research such as proteomics and systems biology.

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Energy and Environment

Core Research Areas