To help bridge the gap between the lab and the field, the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI) is constructing the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND-LEEF) at St. Patrick’s County Park. ND-ECI is presently housed at Innovation Park at Notre Dame.
Construction on the $1 million environmental research and education facility will begin this summer and is expected to be completed late fall 2012. ND-LEEF will help scientists explore interactions between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, as they search to discover ways to minimize the impact humans have on the environment.
ND-LEEF will focus on finding solutions to problems that pit economic interests against environmental interests, according to David Lodge, director of ND-ECI. One long-term goal of the program is to identify possible applications that can eventually be transferred and developed in the commercial marketplace.
The one-of-a-kind research facility will initially be home to two constructed experimental watersheds, each consisting of an interconnected pond, stream, and wetland. Each manmade watershed will be roughly the length and width of a football field.
Researchers will be able to control the amount of water flowing through all or part of each experimental watershed. Future experiments could include changing the water temperature by just a degree or two to see how that influences aquatic organisms, explained biological sciences professor Jennifer Tank, director of ND-LEEF.
“ND-LEEF will allow researchers to recreate ecosystems at a scale they can't achieve in a laboratory setting,” Tank said. “There are other facilities in which scientists can control conditions in replicated streams, ponds, or wetlands, but I am unaware of any other facility where those habitats are connected, and scientists can control conditions for experiments.”
These unique watersheds will allow scientists to conduct field experiments in a more controlled environmental setting than nature itself can provide.
In addition to the close partnership with the St. Joseph County Parks Department, ND-LEEF represents a multidisciplinary collaboration between Notre Dame’s College of Science, College of Engineering, and School of Architecture.
ND-LEEF will start as a 3-season facility that will provide an unparalleled opportunity for scientific and environmental outreach to regional school groups and other park visitors from South Bend, St. Joseph County, and surrounding communities. Scientists and students from Notre Dame and other universities are expected to use the facility for experiments, and the university plans to develop outreach programs for K-12 and adults in partnership with the park.
The entire site will be wired with an extensive embedded sensor network, allowing school groups, the general public, and collaborating scientists to follow the research in real time via the Internet from anywhere in the world.
Real-time data collection allows educators at all levels to provide follow-up on ecological classroom exercises for weeks or even months after a field trip to the ND-LEEF facility.
ND-LEEF will also include a large area dedicated to terrestrial ecological research as well as space for smaller scale mesocosm experiments. Experiments are expected to begin spring 2013.
For more information, visit http://environmentalchange.nd.edu/programs/