US Ecological Observatory Receives New NSF Funding

January 24, 2011

The Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and representatives of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) have completed two Cooperative Support Agreements that will fund design and development of the project as it prepares for its final NSF review. $20.7 million will be used for organizational and project management support to complete the NEON construction-ready design and execution plan. A separate agreement for $3.8 million will support completion of the NEON Cyber Infrastructure construction-ready design. NEON is a continental-scale ecological observation platform for understanding and forecasting the impacts of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species on ecology. The NEON science mission is to identify and understand critical continental-scale environmental drivers and ecological responses. The network will support a range of long-term ecological research activities and enhance the capacity of scientists to forecast future states of ecological systems affected by the changing environment. “New ways of observing provide powerful new ways of understanding the world,” said NEON Project PI David Schimel. “Just as new sensors have revolutionized medicine, astronomy and geology, NEON will provide a whole new window on ecological systems.”

NEON will consist of distributed sensor networks and experiments, linked by advanced cyberinfrastructure, to record ecological data for an estimated 30 years. The Observatory will collect data via a complex array of instruments deployed in 20 carefully-selected sites across the continental United States, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. The new NSF funds provide essential support to finish the design and construction plan for the network. “This award will support a team of world-class scientists, engineers, and software developers to complete a detailed, construction-ready blueprint for the implementation of NEON candidate sites, installation of sensors, data acquisition and management software, and the software environment for production of high-level data products and ecological forecasts. Once this design is complete, we will be ready to build and commission the network on behalf of NSF and the scientific community,” said Dr. Schimel. NEON design partitions the United States into 20 ecoclimatic domains using a statistical analysis of ecoclimatic state variables such as temperature, precipitation, and solar insolation. Each domain hosts one fully instrumented NEON Candidate Core Site located in a wildland area. Collectively, the domains represent US ecological and climate variability at the continental scale. Additional relocatable and mobile instruments, as well as airborne observation and land use analysis capacity, will extend the reach of NEON standardized measurements and increase the usefulness of Observatory data to researchers, educators, and decisionmakers. NEON education and outreach will focus on preparing society and the scientific community to use Observatory data, information, and forecasts. Data collected throughout the network will become a resource for broadening public understanding of ecological issues and for training new generations of scientists to collaborate at the continental scale. The suite of NEON sensors and data-collection cyberinfrastructure captures a diverse set of important US environmental drivers of ecological change: Biotic (biodiversity, invasive species, and diseases); Abiotic (geochemistry, hydrology, climate change); and Social (economics, land use, and land cover). “During the next year’s intensive design and engineering phase, we will be collaborating extensively with the scientific community to ensure that, as the final design decisions, tradeoffs, and options are considered, we make the right decisions to maximize the science return on investment from the network,” said NEON Board Chair Dr. James A. MacMahon. NEON will be the first initiative in the biological sciences considered for funding through the NSF Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) portfolio—a fund that has built telescope arrays, neutrino detectors, and ocean research vessels. NEON is designed to serve as a US terrestrial contribution to the proposed Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).

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