Oak Ridge National Laboratory – Aquatic Ecology Laboratory

Capabilities include:

  • Environmental Modeling
  • Flume testing


The Aquatic Ecology Laboratory was built in 1972 to support DOE-funded research on potential thermal effects of nuclear energy on aquatic environments (rivers, marine coastlines, estuaries etc.). The lab comprises eight 22-m artificial streams that can be used as a flow-through or recycling system, equipped with radiotracers to investigate nutrient transport through components of simple aquatic ecosystems. This facility could be used to trace transport and uptake of heavy metals and other contaminants. In addition, the lab hosts numerous fiberglass tanks, ranging from circular 750-L holding tanks to 1.2-m long X 55-cm wide X 30-cm deep Living Streams R, with varying flow rates and temperature control. The Aquatic Ecology Laboratory facilities have recently supported experimental studies include evaluating injury, mortality, and the behavioral response of fish to varying turbulence and shear levels. The lab also has fish-strike instrumentation specially designed to study the effect of hydropower turbine blade impact on fish. Researchers expertise include field monitoring and testing, such as water and sediment sampling in stream channels.

ORNL researchers have developed individual-based models that can be used to estimate the population-level consequences and risk to marine fishes and mammals posed by interactions with energy infrastructure. Similar models have been used to understand population-level consequences of turbine interactions in rivers. Movement rules used in the models can account for species responses to tides and advective currents.

These include laboratory, ecological modeling, statistics, geographic information systems, and remote sensing skills, as well as a long history of developing ecological risk assessment frameworks for various activities and stressors, including energy technologies (hydropower, wind energy, bioenergy, oil and gas production), chemical contaminants, and noise from military testing. The Laboratory also has expertise in quantifying and valuing ecosystem services.

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Point of Contact: Teresa Mathews –