Funded by the National Science Foundation, The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) provides open, continental-scale data that characterize and quantify complex, rapidly changing ecological processes. The Observatory’s comprehensive design supports greater understanding of ecological change and enables forecasting of future ecological conditions. NEON collects and processes data from field sites located across the continental US, Puerto Rico and Hawaii over a 30-year timeframe. NEON provides free and open data that characterize plants, animals, soil, nutrients, freshwater and the atmosphere. These data may be combined with external datasets or data collected by primary investigators to support the study of continental-scale ecological change.
Ecological relevance: why NEON, why now?
Natural systems are comprised of complex processes occurring over a range of scales, from the intricate composition of individual living cells to the dynamic interactions of the global ecosystem. The earth and its ecological processes are changing at unprecedented rates due to human activity; the effects of these changes are uncertain. To address this uncertainty, the science, education, computing and engineering communities provided input to NEON’s design, with the shared goal of creating a long-term ecological observatory that collects and provides a diverse suite of comparable and consistent ecological data at multiple spatial and temporal scales.
Addressing the Grand Challenges in Environmental Science
NEON is designed to measure the drivers of change and the ecological responses to change in the areas of biodiversity, biogeochemistry, ecohydrology and infectious disease. These design objectives are based on the National Research Council's Grand Challenges in Environmental Science. Several high-level requirements provide the foundation for the NEON Observatory:
- Observe the causes and consequences of environmental change to establish the link between ecological cause and effect;
- Detect and quantify ecological responses to and interactions between climate, land use and biological invasions, which unfold over decades;
- Provide information on all the Grand Challenge areas in environmental science: biodiversity, biogeochemistry, ecohydrology, infectious diseases, biological invasion, land use change and climate change;
- Address ecological processes at the continental scale and the integration of local behavior to the continent, and observe transport processes that couple ecosystems across continental scales;
- Develop infrastructure to support community driven experiments that accelerate changes toward anticipated future conditions;
- Provide usable information to scientists, educators, students, the general public and governmental and non-governmental decision makers; and
- Provide infrastructure to scientific and educational communities, by supplying long-term, continental-scale information for research and education, and by supplying resources so that the community can deploy additional sensors, measurements, experiments and learning opportunities.
Quantifying ecological variability across time and space
NEON collects data that detect site-level to continental-scale change through unique sampling and scaling design approaches:
Sampling design: field sites across the continent
The NEON Observatory operates terrestrial and aquatic sites across the continental US, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Sites are strategically placed within 20 identified ecoclimatic domains to ensure statistical representation of ecological, physical and biological variability. NEON core sites will operate for a minimum of 30 years and capture wildland conditions; relocatable sites may be re-deployed periodically to capture specific environmental gradients or human-triggered ecological change.
Scalable design: from local to continental data
NEON field-based measurements provide detailed information that characterizes local, site-level change. Airborne data combined with site-level data capture contiguous site-level information and can be combined with existing satellite data to support continental characterization of ecological processes.
NEON data: open, integrated and standardized
NEON data range in complexity from basic metrics derived from samples or sensors at individual sites to datasets that incorporate multiple ecological measurements and cover the entire continent.
Find open data
By 2017, all NEON data and associated design, data collection and processing documentation will be available to download and use through the NEON Data Portal. During construction, select NEON data are available for sites that are actively collecting data.
Integrated data collection
NEON collects integrated biological, physical and chemical measurements at all of its field sites using a combination of field-based observations, as well as in situ and remote sensor methods, to support the study of complex ecological processes. This coordinated data collection strategy uniquely addresses ecosystem level questions in several key themes, such as biogeochemisty and ecohydrology.
Consistent, comparable, high-quality Data
NEON assures high-quality, comparable data through standardized and quality-controlled data collection and processing methods. The Observatory employs a team of multidisciplinary experts to design and implement infrastructure that provides high-quality data and associated documentation to the community.
Education and public engagement: a resource for the community
Education and public engagement are important to NEON’s mission. Education programs facilitate increased awareness and understanding of ecological change and familiarize people with large, complex datasets. NEON currently provides various Learn and Experience opportunities:
- Citizen Science programs that engage a diverse audience and provide professional development resources; existing programs include the Citizen Science Academy and Project Budburst, which is a plant phenology monitoring program;
- Undergraduate internships that give qualified students experience in scientific research, engineering and computing projects; and
- Free education resources, including videos and data processing tutorials to facilitate the use and understanding of complex ecological data in formal and informal education.