Department of Energy National Environmental Research Parks

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Ecological Research at the DOE Parks

The seven DOE research parks provide ideal settings to study the nature of present and future environmental consequences stemming from the Department's mission. Environmental research and education on these DOE sites include--

  • Long-term observations of climate, animal and plant populations, and physical changes--in some cases extending over several decades--to determine successional patterns of biota and soils resulting from energy and weapons activities and natural disturbances such as floods, drought, and fires.
  • Research on ecosystem dynamics, contaminant transport, bioremediation, model development, and theory validation, often utilizing the long-term data sets that have been developed.
  • Establishment of ParkNet, an interactive network among the seven research parks for cross-site synthesis and analysis, to determine environmental trends and processes across major ecoregions ranging from arid and semiarid desert to tallgrass prairie, deciduous forest, and cypress swamp.
  • Education of grade-school and high-school students and the general public about the ecosystem and interactions among humans, plants, animals, and soils at DOE sites.
  • Training of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students and faculty in environmental research related to site-specific, regional, national, and global issues.
  • Collaboration and coordination among local, regional, and national public organizations, state and federal government programs, schools, universities, and private institutes that are concerned with environmental preserves and their appropriate use.

Most of the land on the research parks is undeveloped, with minimal cultivation and almost no human residents; therefore, the parks function as quasi-natural areas and provide some exceptionally long-term data sets. To take advantage of the long history of research, the available data sets, and the experience of investigators at the parks, several computational and synthesis workshops have been held to analyze and synthesize data across the network of parks. Workshop topics included comparison of population diversity and population dynamics, multiple landscape scales and patterns, paleoecological rates of change, and bird population comparisons. Data analysis from the workshop on bird populations demonstrated the value of the research parks as sanctuaries for wild birds in shrub-steppe and grassland ecoregions, where the biodiversity and abundance of populations was much greater on ecosystems located inside the research parks compared with the same ecosystem types located outside.

The parks exhibit differences in biomass and productivity of several orders of magnitude. Therefore, the network approach to analysis is valuable for identifying gradients across geographic regions, as well as differences between ecosystems set aside as refuges and those more open to human use.

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Last Updated: October 2007