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NEON – Hawaii 

Battelle is completing the construction, commissioning and initial operations of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Once completed and fully functional, NEON will serve as an extremely important national asset for providing long-term ecological data to the scientific community. The NEON project will advance the ability of scientists to examine and understand the interactions between life and the environment from coast-to-coast in the United States including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. 


There will be 81 field sites in total and those sites will include a technological infrastructure that gathers information from air, water and land sensors, as well as field samples, over the course of a human generation. The sites are located into 20 eco-climatic domains. The field study site for one of those domains – the Pacific Tropical domain – is proposed to be housed within the Pu’u Maka’ala Natural Area Reserves System (NARS). This would be the only site representing this domain. 

Research Area

rendering of an observation tower at a NEON site in HawaiiFollowing construction, a suite of terrestrial sampling protocols will be implemented on a routine basis – over the 30 years of the project. Sampling will occur at designated plots and grids established in locations throughout the surrounding lands of Pu’u Maka’ala.

Up to 62 plots or grids will be distributed over about 11,660 acres of the NAR. In total, the plots and grids would cover about 630 acres, with sampling activities occurring in only a portion of each plot or grid. 

Over the 30-year operational period, research technicians will visit each plot and grid on a routine basis. They are designed to be passive with minimal ground disturbance. 

There also will be an annual aerial flight that will use a small aircraft with remote sensing equipment to gather data. The typical flight height will be about 3,281 feet about ground

Environmental Impact

An extensive assessment of the potential environmental impacts on the Pu’u Maka’ala area has been conducted. The assessment covers anticipated effects of the proposed project on environmental and socioeconomic conditions. 

The assessment covers:

  • Climate
  • Land use and recreation
  • Geology and soils
  • Water resources
  • Biological resources
  • Archaeological, architectural and cultural resources
  • Visual resources
  • Hazardous materials
  • Air quality
  • Noise
  • Transportation and traffic
  • Human health and safety
  • Public services and utilities
  • Socioeconomics
  • Cumulative impacts

For full details about each of these areas of assessment and any recommendations for each area, read the full assessment document here


The data collected from the site will be reviewed, synthesized and packaged by the NEON project team. The resulting data set will be uploaded to an online portal where it will be made freely available to the scientific community and public as part of the NEON data set. Scientists from around the world can access the database to use for their scientific data. We will also be working with local scientific groups to share our data and assets for their research.

Schedule for Project

Preparation for construction, installation of infrastructure and construction acceptance is expected to require from five to six months, and installation and calibration of equipment is expected to require an additional one to two months. Subject to environmental clearance and permitting, it is currently anticipated that construction would start in fall 2017, with operation of the site starting in spring 2018. The project will last 30 years. 

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