Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

Research Facilities

In keeping with its integrated approach to environmental research, SREL has a wide range of analytical and experimental capabilities, from biogeochemical, radiological, and genetic analyses to plant, animal, and microbial facilities, two unique experimental facilities, and standard tools for an array of field research.

Radioecology Microbiology Experimental Facilities
Biogeochemistry DNA Laboratory Field Research



Scintillation spec.

Gamma counter

Animal body counter

SREL's primary radioecology facility is the Par Pond Radioecology Laboratory, located approximately 15 miles from the main laboratory. Instrumentation at the Par Pond facility includes two high-purity germanium detectors, two large well-type NaI detectors, a NaI autogamma counter, 1220 Quantulus ultra low level liquid scintillation spectrometer, and computing equipment for modeling. Additional counting equipment is available at SREL's main laboratory, including whole body counters for testing live animals.

Additional resources for radioecology include an array of outdoor mesocosms equipped with radiation sources (Low Dose Irradiation Facility) constructed adjacent to the Par Pond laboratory to study effects of chronic, low-level radiation on aquatic animals; opportunities to conduct field research in Par Pond, a former cooling reservoir affected by low-level contamination in the 1960s; and opportunities to study tritium movement in terrestrial ecosystems at the Tritium Irrigation Facility.



X-ray diffractometer

photo of ICP-MS


photo of GC-MS


photo of ion chromatograph

Ion chromatograph

Capabilities include characterization and quantification of organic and inorganic compounds, detection of trace metals, physical and chemical characterization of suspended particulates, and solute or suspension dynamics.

Instrumentation for analysis of organic compounds includes a gas chromatograph (FID and ECD) and high resolution gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC-MS); fluorescence spectrometer; high performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC) with PDA detection; and ion chromatograph for analysis of organic and inorganic ions (e.g. NO3 2-, SO4 2-, citrate).

Instrumentation for mineralogical analysis of soils includes x-ray diffractometer (XRD) and high-resolution thermogravimetric analyzer (HR-TGA). Trace metals (e.g. Cu Zn, Cd, Ni) are detected by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) or ICP-optical emission spectrometer (OES). ICP-MS peripherals include a laser ablation system for determining spatial distribution of metals on surfaces such as tree cores, shells, or feathers; dedicated ion chromatograph for determining metal species (e.g. As, Se, Cu complexes); and HPLC.

Instrumentation for analysis of particulates includes a surface area and porosimetry analyzer (BET) for characterizing particles in surface and ground waters, UV-VIS-NIR spectroscope for characterizing compounds in solution or suspension, and photon correlation spectroscope for analyzing surface charge and particle size. The contaminant transport lab includes a modified centrifuge system, known as an Unsaturated Flow Apparatus (UFA), and multiple vacuum column systems for conducting solute transport studies under variably saturated conditions. Saturated flow experiments are conducted with a computer controlled, automated column leaching system equipped with instrumentation for continuously monitoring various physical and chemical parameters, and collection of effluent fractions.


photo of anaerobic gassing station

Anaerobic gassing station

photo of microscope

Microscopy station


SREL's microbiological facilities include resources for many aspects of microbiological research, from culture and molecular analysis to field collection or microscopy, with additional analytical capabilities available through the SREL DNA Laboratory and SREL analytical chemistry facilities.

The microbial facilities include a microbiological laboratory for aerobic or anaerobic media preparation and sterilization, and climate controlled incubators. The laboratory can accommodate microcosm, mesocosm, continuous culture, or flow-cell experiments. Ultra-cold freezers and a walk-in cold room are also available. Molecular capabilities in the microbial laboratory include extraction, purification, and analysis by gas chromatography-flame ionization detection (GC-FID) and GC- MS of microbial lipids from culture or environmental samples. Additional molecular tools available through the SREL DNA Laboratory (described in greater detail below) include DNA extraction and purification, traditional and quantitative PCR, cloning, multiple electrophoresis techniques, semi-automated capillary sequencing, and automated mutational scanning by denaturing HPLC. An array of advanced instrumentation for biogeochemical analyses (described above) is also available at SREL. Optics include an Olympus BX61 motorized research microscope capable of fluorescence, differential interference contrast, and reflected or transmission light microscopy, with peripherals, including a digital camera and dedicated computer with Slidebook software.



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PCR Laboratory

photo of sequencer

Automated sequencer

row of PCR machines

High throughput PCR setup

photo of gel imaging system

Gel imaging system

The SREL DNA Laboratory consists of two labs: a pre-PCR lab (~800 sq. ft.), and a PCR lab (~2000sq. ft.) located down the hall. The pre-PCR lab is used for DNA extractions and amplification setups. It contains centrifuges, rotators, incubators, UV sterilizer, heating blocks, pH meter, balance, refrigerator and freezers. The PCR lab contains an Applied Biosystems 3130xl (16 capillary) DNA analyzer/sequencer, Varian dHPLC system, Biorad iQ quantitative PCR, four 96-well gradient thermocyclers, three dual 96-well block thermocyclers, vertical and horizontal electrophoresis rigs, refrigerated circulators, centrifuges, microcooler, waterbath, balances, heating blocks, stir plates, pH meter, fluorometers, incubators, shakers, Centrivap concentrator and pump, Alpha Innotech AlphaImager 3400 photodocumentation system with gel analysis software, Hydra™ 96 microdispenser, two pulsed field gel electrophoresis rigs, microwave oven, refrigerators and freezers, and a darkroom. Both labs have built-in fume hoods and attached offices with PC and Macintosh computers and appropriate software. The SREL DNA Laboratory also offers a microsatellite development service, offered on a cost-reimbursement basis. The SREL DNA Laboratory has developed microsatellite loci for over 200 species, with representatives from all eukaryotic kingdoms.



photo of greenhouse


photo of small mesocosm


Aquatic Facility

photo of experimental pond

Experimental Ponds

row of snake boxes

Animal Care Facility

SREL has resources for both plant and animal experimental research, as well as two unique experimental facilities (described separately; the Low-Dose Irradiation Facility and the Tritium Irrigation Facility).

Resources for experimental plant research include 4,200 sq.ft. of greenhouse space, eight growth chambers, a rhizotron, an outdoor mesocosm array, and ecophysiological instrumentation. Greenhouse space is comprised of eight chambers, seven of which are electrically heated and evaporatively cooled, and one of which is fully heated and air-conditioned. One room is also equipped with tanks for aquatic plants. The greenhouses are adjoined by a 1,200 sq.ft. head house for sample preparation. Growth chambers include several incubator/germinator (10.5" growing height) and reach-in (51" growing height) chambers, and one 8' x 9' walk-in chamber. Instrumentation includes two LI-COR 6200 Portable Photosynthesis Systems with closed path flow characteristics and several plant moisture stress pressure chambers for plant water relations research. Ancillary field equipment, including Campbell data loggers with appropriate environmental probes, is also available.

Resources for animal research include an animal care facility for terrestrial species; an indoor holding facility, outdoor ponds, and mesocosms for aquatic animals; and aviaries and a brooder house for avifauna. The terrestrial animal care facility contains eight individually climate controlled animal holding rooms, two surgery rooms, and a general laboratory room. This facility is suitable for most species of small to medium sized terrestrial animals, and is well ventilated to prevent spread of airborne pathogens. The aquatic animal facility contains ten bays that can accommodate water depths up to 1m, and is suitable for medium to large aquatic animals, such as fish, turtles, and alligators up to 10 ft in length. The facility is climate controlled, and water temperature is fully adjustable. Animals may also be housed outdoors in six large, fenced experimental ponds suitable for a variety of aquatic fauna. Flow-through outdoor mesocosms are also available. Avian facilities include a brooder house with 12 stalls primarily for waterfowl and domestic fowl, and four large aviaries with a small pond in each, suitable for waterfowl or other species.

SREL also has two unique experimental facilities, described in detail on separate pages: the Low-Dose Irradiation Facility and the Tritium Irrigation Facility.



grad student in the field



SREL has a variety of resources for field research, including vehicles, watercraft (canoes, Boston Whalers, airboats), GIS data, and standard field equipment for most areas of terrestrial and aquatic ecology; specialties include plant ecology, herpetology, limnology, microbiology, and avian studies. Laser surveying equipment, Cambell dataloggers with a variety of probes, and smaller model dataloggers are also available. Geographic resources include GPS units (handheld and backpack models), a library of SRS aerial photography beginning in the 1940s, a collection of multispectral imagery, and custom GIS layers such as SRS vegetation and soil maps. However, SREL's most valuable resource for field research is the 803 sq. km. Savannah River Site (SRS) itself. SREL currently has 75 permitted research areas on the SRS, some of which have been studied for decades.