Environmental Change Initiative Developing New Methods, Collaborations

Author: Notre Dame Science Magazine, Winter 2013


David and Peter, ECI

Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI) examines the problems of invasive species, agricultural land use, and climate change and their complex, interrelated impact on water resources. It is also an important testing ground for new research techniques and novel collaborations, combining biological and ecological science with technology and engineering to develop practical solutions that maintain the delicate balance of environmental and social welfare. David Lodge, professor of biological sciences, and the ND-ECI’s director, emphasizes that this blend of expertise places his team “not only in a position, like so many others, to diagnose the many problems that we have in the environment, but to actually help solve them.” 
The project’s scale is ambitious. Its researchers will partner with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), a new, continental-scale research platform which will gather detailed data on the ecological effects of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species across the 48 continental United States. NEON will also make this data fully available to researchers and the public on a near real-time basis. These resources will allow ND-ECI not only to observe environmental processes, but to examine the effectiveness and the results of its testing across the breadth of North America’s ecological variety. The ND-ECI project considers the exploration of these new real-time research techniques to be an independent goal, closely intertwined with its immediate objects of study. Another goal is to incorporate the work of humanists, social scientists, and risk analysts in its research, in order to be mindful of the dangers of implementing new techniques with inappropriate timing and placement and without regard for local needs.
Among the techniques in development to counter invasive species will be analysis of organism spread under various climate change scenarios, bioeconomic modeling of the mutual impact of environment and trade, and experiments on the impact of species together with new genetic technologies for their detection. The ND-ECI will also develop methods of modifying agricultural land use to minimize the runoff of excess nutrients into local aquatic ecosystems, an ecologically destabilizing side effect of farming. It will create new and unique embedded sensor networks to measure runoff in field scale experiments, which will be the key to the effective design and testing of potential adaptive policies.
This past summer, the initiative launched the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND–LEEF) in collaboration with St. Patrick’s County Park. The facility will not only provide an unrivaled opportunity for scientific and environmental outreach, but will also allow collaborating scientists and educators to follow the research in real-time through the Internet from anywhere in the world.