Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility

Working in a laboratory provides scientists with a predictable and controlled setting for conducting experiments. But in the environmental sciences eventually many of those experiments need to graduate to the uncontrolled and unpredictable environment of the field—a transition that can be challenging for both the scientist and the science. 

To help bridge this gap between the lab and the field, the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI) constructed a globally unique research facility that is home to two constructed experimental watersheds, each consisting of an interconnected pond, stream and wetland. Both of these experimental watersheds are roughly the length and width of a football field and they will be located five miles north of campus on six acres of land within St. Patrick’s County Park. These artificial watersheds allow scientists to conduct “field experiments” in a more controlled environmental setting than nature itself can provide, thereby helping to bridge the gap that has traditionally existed between the lab and the field. This new research site is known as the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility, or ND-LEEF for short.

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ND-LEEF was born out of a close partnership with the Park that provides an unrivaled opportunity for scientific and environmental outreach to regional school groups and other park visitors from South Bend, St. Joseph County, and surrounding communities.  Built in 2014, the Morrison family Education and Outreach Pavilion serves as the hub for future outreach programming at ND-LEEF and as a source of information about current ND research for park visitors.

While other universities and government agencies have experimental research facilities containing multiple small ponds or artificial streams, we believe ND-LEEF is globally unique because the pond, stream and wetland in each watershed are connected—an experimental research design that is intended to mimic nature. The connected configuration of these watersheds is especially important when investigating issues related to environmental change, which often cascade through several ecosystem types.  The streams, ponds and wetlands at ND-LEEF can also be disconnected from one another for a given experiment, providing scientists with maximum flexibility in designing research projects

The two current watersheds at ND-LEEF represent the first phase of construction at ND-LEEF.  Subsequent phases will include the construction of 10 additional research watersheds, along with lab space and meeting rooms.



The Morrison Family Education and Outreach Pavilion Live View (Updated Hourly)





ND-LEEF Contacts:

Professor Jennifer Tank, Director (574) 631-3976

Brett Peters, Assistant Director (574) 367-7621

Professor Aimee Buccellato, School of Architecture (574) 631-1431


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Author: Dana Bakirtjy, ND Works

Sustainability is often thought about strictly as an environmental issue: recycling, limiting emissions or protecting wildlife. But sustainability is more than just planting trees and driving hybrid cars. More than 140 faculty members in 36 University departments are currently conducting...

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