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Continental-Scale Data Collection

Enabling science for the ecology community

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)

Battelle is proud to manage one of the most ambitious ecology programs of all time: the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Since assuming management of the observatory for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2016, our team has successfully transitioned all 81 field sites from construction to operations and positioned the program to be a powerful player in the ecology community for decades to come. 

The NEON Program: Ecology on a Continental Scale

The NEON program, funded by NSF, is the largest ecological observatory network in the U.S., with field sites spanning the country from Puerto Rico to Alaska to Hawaii. The program will collect ecological data for 30 years from terrestrial and aquatic field sites in 20 North American ecoclimate domains, creating an open access data trove for the ecology community of unprecedented scope and scale. 

The NEON program provides:

  • Long-term, continental-scale environmental data that are freely available to researchers and the public through the NEON Data Portal
  • Access to biological, genomic and geological samples collected at NEON sites through the NEON Biorepository 
  • Infrastructure to support additional research activities (available through the NEON Assignable Assets program)
  • Open access educational tools to help researchers and students work with large sets of ecological data 

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The goal of the NEON program is to provide high-quality, comparable data that will enable scientists, researchers, and students to answer critical scientific questions and forecast changes in climate and ecosystem composition over time. Data are collected using standardized observational sampling methods, in situ water and soil sensors, meteorological and flux tower sensors, and airborne remote sensing surveys. 

Airborne Remote Sensing Automated Instruments Observational Sampling

Airborne remote sensing surveys are conducted over field sites at "peak greeness" to collect data on land cover and changes to ecological structure and chemistry. 

Sensors include:

  • High-resolution digital camera
  • Hyperspectral imaging spectrometer
  • Discrete and full waveform LiDAR

In situ automated instruments collect a variety of data including:

  • Meteorological 
  • Soil
  • Surface water
  • Groundwater
  • Phenology images

Data include:

  • Soils and sediments
  • Ground beetles
  • Ticks
  • Mosquitoes
  • Birds
  • Small Mammals
  • Fish
  • Plants
  • Microalgae
  • Zooplankton
  • Macroinvertebrates
  • Pathogens and DNA sequences
  • Geomorphology and hydrology
  • Biogeochemical data:
    • Soils
    • Plants
    • Sediments
    • Microbes
    • Water
    • Microalgae

 

Enabling Science for the Ecological Community

Enabling science at this scale requires more than an understanding of the ecology. The success of the NEON program depends on its people, infrastructure, systems and processes. Battelle is putting our expertise in large research infrastructure to work to ensure that the observatory is positioned for long-term success and its people are empowered to do their best work. 

Over the next 30 years, the observatory will evolve and grow as new technologies become available and new research questions are identified. As the NEON program completes the transition to full operations and moves forward with its operations, Battelle will continue to work closely with NSF and the ecological community to ensure that the work we are doing supports their evolving needs. 

Answering the Big Questions in Ecology

At its heart, the NEON program is about answering big questions in ecology. The geographic and temporal scale of NEON will enable researchers to explore questions about climate and ecosystem change that have been difficult to examine until now. The data we are collecting will be used to inform natural resource and land management decisions, update climate models and forecasts, and monitor how different ecosystems are responding to invasive species, climate change and changes in land use. 

NEON was designed to address the National Research Council's "Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences." The Grand Challenge areas include biodiversity, biogeochemistry, ecohydrology, infectious disease, soil carbon storage, biological invasion, land use change and climate change. 

NEON data has already been put to work to investigate a range of ecological and environmental questions, including:

Changing How Ecology is Studied

The NEON program is doing more than collecting ecological data. We are changing the way ecology is done and bringing the power of "big data" to environmental research. Making NEON data freely available to the scientific community creates new opportunities for researchers and students and makes ecological research more efficient. Rather than conducting time-consuming and expensive field observations individually, researchers will be able to leverage data from NEON to explore complex ecological questions across geography and time. In this way, National Science Foundation’s NEON is helping to make ecology more accessible and collaborative for the next generation of scientists.  

We're just getting started, and we are excited to see how researchers, students and citizen scientists will put our data to work over the next decades. The future of science is open!