The Oak Ridge Research Park is a giant outdoor scientific laboratory. It contains large blocks of forest and diverse vegetational communities that offer unparalleled resources for ecosystem-level and large-scale research. Major national and international collaborative research initiatives use it to address issues such as multiple stress interactions, biodiversity, sustainable development, tropospheric air quality, global climate change, innovative power conductors, solar radiation monitoring, ecological recovery, and monitoring and remediation.
Field sites at the Research Park provide maintenance and support facilities that permit sophisticated and well-instrumented environmental experiments. These facilities include elaborate monitoring systems that enable users to precisely and accurately measure environmental factors for extended periods of time. Because the park is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, public access is restricted, and experimental sites and associated equipment are, therefore, not disturbed.
National recognition of the value of the Research Park has led to its use as a component of both regional- and continental-scale research projects. Various Research Park sites offer opportunities for aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem analyses of topics such as biogeochemical cycling of pollutants resulting from energy production, landscape alterations, ecosystem restoration, wetlands mitigation, and forest and wildlife management. The Research Park is a particularly valuable area for addressing such important issues. One example is the Walker Branch Watershed, a site of long-term research on issues such as forest and stream ecology, biogeochemistry, and hydrology, with particular emphasis now on research related to climate change.
Management of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the southeastern United States in the future will require a much better understanding of the interactions between expected anthropogenic stresses and climate changes. The Research Park provides sites for experimental studies and monitoring activities to develop that understanding by addressing the following topics for the eastern deciduous forest:
- Vegetation response to atmospheric stresses (e.g., ozone, high nitrogen deposition) under climate variations;
- Changes in plant community dynamics (e.g., rare species, shifts in dominant vegetation types) in response to land use, atmospheric stresses, and climate variation;
- Biogeochemical cycling and output of nitrogen as nitrogen deposition changes and forests grow and change;
- Landscape-scale interactions among different vegetation and animal communities;
- Terrestrial-aquatic interactions under climate variations and terrestrial community succession or change; and
- Recovery of stream communities from past disturbances.
Each year the Research Park hosts numerous visitors from many different institutions who use its facilities to study many of these topics. Over the past 5 years the Research Park has attracted more than 1500 users from ORNL and over 200 high schools, colleges, universities, industries, and state and federal agencies. The 531 users during FY 2017 represented 35 organizations, including educational institutions, state and federal agencies, and others.
ORNL has a long history of interactions with academia. Currently ORNL has educational programs in place for all scientific disciplines and for all levels in the educational continuum from pre-college through postgraduate.
The Ecological and Physical Sciences Study Center established by the Research Park in 1984 and now managed by the American Museum of Science and Energy, uses facilities, including those of the Research Park, to offer an inquiry-based approach to learning math, physical science, and life science. Education is, thus, one of the missions of the ORR. For example, the Three Bend Scenic and Wildlife Management Refuge Area, an almost 1,200 hectare (3,000 acre) conservation and wildlife management area of the Research Park, is used by educational institutions as an outdoor classroom to study topics ranging from characterization of bird habitats to impacts of invasive plants.
For additional information on the Research Park, contact