The Learning Barge: Environmental + Cultural Ecologies on the Elizabeth River

EPA Grant Number: SU833802
Title: The Learning Barge: Environmental + Cultural Ecologies on the Elizabeth River
Investigators: Crisman, Phoebe
Institution: University of Virginia
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: II
Project Period: August 31, 2007 through August 31, 2008
Project Amount: $75,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2007) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , P3 Awards , Sustainability


A University of Virginia interdisciplinary student team will design and fabricate the Learning Barge—a floating environmental education field station powered solely by site-based solar and wind energy systems. The 32’x120’ barge will support a contained bed wetland that filters grey water and creates habitat. The renewable energy and water systems will publicly exhibit a high quality of life while demonstrating energy independence with a substantial reduction in global pollution. The project is in partnership with The Elizabeth River Project (ERP), a non-profit environmental group whose mission is to clean up the Elizabeth River, which is one of the most contaminated estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay. The Learning Barge will between four major cities while monitoring and teaching about ongoing sediment remediation, pollution prevention and restoration projects. It is anticipated that over 19,000 K-12 students and adults will visit the Barge each year. ERP and their partners, including several public school districts, NOAA and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, will operate the Learning Barge.


The Learning Barge will be a technically sound, educationally informative, economically feasible and innovative implementation of science and technology for sustainability. Our hypothesis is that an environmental education field station built using rigorous environmental criteria will have a positive impact on the students, the community, and in the broadest sense, the planet.


The Learning Barge team uses a holistic, integrated design approach involving many disciplines and multiple public, private and governmental institutions. Off-the-shelf, state of the art solar technologies will be innovatively integrated into the barge design. Sustainable building concepts will be used, including rain and grey water reuse systems, composting waste disposal, passive solar concepts and day lighting, and the use of recycled and alternative materials.

Expected Results:

The predicted result is an energy self-sustaining educational environment. Data acquisition systems will measure actual energy performance and computer simulation will predict annual performance and evaluate the economic and comfort benefits. The intended educational outcome is increased K-12 student, teacher and public understanding of Elizabeth River ecology and the impact of local watershed cities on this ecosystem. Indicators of success will be the number of students attending educational workshops onboard.

Supplemental Keywords:

green building, rainfall harvesting, waste minimization, alternative building technology, ecological design, energy conservation, energy efficiency, environmentally conscious design, life-cycle analysis, cost benefit, outreach and education, community-based, aquatic, human health, socio-economic, Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, VA, EPA Region 3,

Relevant Websites:

UVA Learning Barge Web Site Exit
Elizabeth River Project Exit

Phase 1 Abstract
Phase 1 Final Report

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report

  • P3 Phase I:

    The Learning Barge: Environmental + Cultural Ecologies on the Elizabeth River  | Final Report