The Niwot Ridge sits approximately 27 km west of Boulder, Colorado, and 6 km east of the Continental Divide. Topography, climate, and biota of the site are representative of Rocky Mountain alpine ecosystems, including extensive alpine tundra (mostly herbs, some shrubs and scree) and subalpine coniferous forests (Abies lasciocarpa and Picea engelmanii at higher elevations), talus slopes, wetlands and a variety of glacial landforms.
Characterized by cold and relatively long winters, Niwot Ridge has an average annual temperature of 1.5°C and average annual precipitation of 800 mm. Most precipitation falls as snow and summer precipitation falls primarily during afternoon thunderstorms. Located on the eastern side of the Continental Divide at 3,000-3,500 m elevation, the site best captures chemical inputs produced along the Front Range and is well situated to observe other east/west flows across the Southern Rockies in conjunction with other NEON sites.
The site is accessible to the public, is home to the Niwot Ridge Long Term Ecological Research project, and is heavily used by researchers. Research themes include the movement of energy and nutrients across the subalpine-alpine landscape, the influence of nitrogen deposition on ecosystems and hydrology, and the influence of climate on diversity and ecosystem function. Alpine plants and animals survive on the edge of environmental tolerances, making them especially sensitive to changes in climate. Changes in the timing, form, and seasonality of precipitation as well as changes in drought frequency and intensity will alter ecosystem structure and function, ultimately leading to changes in species distributions.
High altitude aquatic ecosystems are responsive to external drivers of change, especially climate change and atmospheric deposition of nitrogen. The Niwot Ridge terrestrial site is collocated with NEON’s D13 core aquatic site, Como Creek, situated at an elevation of 3,030 m in the subalpine.