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Aquatic Ecology Lab


A Brief History

The Aquatic Ecology Laboratory was constructed in 1972 to support the DOE-funded Thermal Effects Research Program. With a national emphasis on the commercial development of nuclear energy, thermal pollution was a significant environmental concern. Because nuclear power plants require large volumes of cooling water, the resultant thermal discharge can adversely affect biota in a variety of habitats, ranging from coastal marine and estuarine environments to large rivers and reservoirs. Researchers used twenty 1.2-meter diameter fiberglass tanks and a state-of-the-art computerized temperature control system, which occupied most of the 5000 sq. ft. of floor space, to determine the thermal tolerances of aquatic species—information that could be employed as design criteria for power plant siting and operation. Another 5000 sq. ft. of research space was added in 1982 to support studies of the toxicity of synthetic fuels, a new alternative energy source. The Toxicology Laboratory was created at this time and four years later, researchers replaced many of the large fiberglass holding tanks with artificial streams.

Current Facilities

Today, the Aquatic Ecology Laboratory contains eight 22-meter artificial streams that can be used as a flowthrough or recycling system. A unique capability of these streams is their use with radiotracers, such as P-32, to investigate the transport of nutrients through various compartments of a simple ecosystem (e.g., water, algae and snails). Past radiotracer experiments have also included studies of the effectiveness of biofilms in the uptake of selected heavy metals. In addition to the streams, 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 are used for experimental purposes. The experiments can be conducted using either spring water or dechlorinated process water at varying flow rates and temperatures. Current experiments include tests of the effects of turbulence on behavioral responses of fish and their susceptibility to increased rates of predation.

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