NEON Selects November’s Ecological Breakthroughs

BOULDER, Colorado (November 2, 2020)—The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) announced today its November selections for the ‘NEON Spotlight’—a monthly recap of innovative projects from the program’s 81 sites across the country. In this month’s ‘Spotlight’ we feature NEON’s latest contributions to the future of ecological discovery, including new findings on the causes of destructive wildfires, how soil stores carbon in different ecosystems and how researchers are working to train the next generation of ecologists. 

NEON is a continental-scale ecological observation facility, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by Battelle since 2016. The goal of the NEON program is to provide high-quality, consistently generated data—free and available to all users—that will enable scientists, researchers, and students to address critical questions and understand changes in ecosystem composition over time. The project’s comprehensive data, spatial extent and remote sensing technology will enable the user community to tackle new questions on an unprecedented scale.  

This Month’s Spotlight 

The latest news from NEON includes: 

New research through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant is helping scientists develop forecasts of future water quality. Virginia Tech associate professors Cayelan Carey and Quinn Thomas are using a portion of this grant to expand an undergraduate training program in macrosystems ecology and ecological forecasting. The program will use NEON data to explore how the predictability of ecological dynamics varies within ecosystems and across different spatial scales.

Baylor University researchers analyzed the composition of 42 NEON soil samples to understand how soil plays a role in carbon storage. William C. Hockaday, an associate professor of geosciences, and visiting scientist, Chenglong Ye, tested the samples using a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, allowing them to analyze the chemical structure and composition of natural organic molecules in the soil. Understanding these patterns will allow scientists to predict how the soil in various ecosystems stores carbon, offering a clearer picture of how soil carbon may impact climate change.

NEON data scientist, Nathan Mietkiewicz, and Jennifer Balch, Director of University of Colorado’s Earth Lab, published research showing that 97% of wildfires that threaten homes in the U.S. are started by humans. Development in wildland-urban areas increased 145% between 1990 and 2015, and the impact of climate change is also exacerbating the issue. But the fact that humans cause most wildfires that threaten homes also means it is possible to prevent these wildfires from occurring.

“The NEON program has become indispensable to the field of ecology – no other organization is capable of conducting leading ecological research at this scale. We are looking forward to further collaborating with other researchers and institutions to push forward ecological discovery,” said Mike Kuhlman, NEON program director.

Read the latest NEON Spotlight.

To learn more about NEON, visit our website.  

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Nov 02, 2020


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