New Environmental Center

Notre Dame recently broke ground on a new research center that offers unprecedented experimental possibilities.  But unlike some of the university's recent projects, this new research center won't host any nanotechnology fabrication or even scientists in lab coats.

That's because right now, the research center is just a big swampy field.

ND LEEF project in South Bend's St

On June 15, Notre Dame officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the research center on 28 acres of St. Patrick's Park in St. Joseph's County, about four miles north of the university campus.  The new $1 million research center, called the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (or ND-LEEF) comprises two manmade watersheds (each about the size of a football field) and includes a manmade stream, ponds, and wetlands.

As a part of Notre Dame's Environmental Change Initiative, the ND-LEEF ecosystems allow for a great degree of experimental control: researchers can adjust water flow through the watershed and even affect water temperature by a few degrees.  Researchers will even be able to monitor sensors in real time over the Internet.

That combination of scientific control and the size of the watershed means that researchers - including Notre Dame scientists, students, visiting scholars and other academic institutes - can pioneer new research on environmental change and human affects on the ecosystem. Notre Dame biologist Dr. Jennifer Tank, for example, will be able to focus her research on how human activity affects stream ecosystems.

parks logo

Associated Press writer Tom Coyne reports on the groundbreaking:

The center will focus on finding solutions to problems the pit economic interests against environmental interests, said David Lodge, director of Notre Dame's Environmental Change Initiative.

As an example, he said the park's ecosystem could help scientists figure out ways to reduce damage caused by fertilizers carried in runoff from farms.

"We'll be able to experiment and change the stream, the pond, the wetlands, in ways to test how we can maximize the waterways to remove those fertilizers before they cause downstream problems. That's one of the powerful kinds of experiments we'll be able to do," Lodge said.

In addition to top-shelf research, Notre Dame will also open the LEEF to visits from younger students, who can learn about the environment and environmental research from the LEEF staff in the field. 

The ND-LEEF should be finished by fall and experiments are slated to begin in spring.

  • For more information about the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative, see their website and check out some of their groundbreaking research programs.
  • For more information about the ND-LEEF and its impact on the field of environmental research, email Jennifer Tank, who will lead stream research at the LEEF, or email David Lodge, director of Notre Dame's Environmental Change Initiative.
  • For more information about St. Patrick's Park and the myriad activities they offer, check out its site on the St. Joseph County Parks page.