Aquatic Observations

After the construction phase, NEON will collect data at 34 aquatic sites featuring 24 streams, 3 large rivers and 7 lakes. At each site, the project’s aquatic observations characterize channel and lake morphology, organism abundance and diversity, seasonal climatic and hydrologic changes, and riparian phenology. These data complement aquatic sensor data that capture hydrologic conditions and surface water and groundwater quality, as well as local atmospheric conditions. Located downstream of 10 reference stream sites, NEON conducts stream experiments that simulate known environmental stressors and comprehensively quantify the ecological responses to those stressors.

Observation methods

Aquatic sites represent continental ecological variability, such as various geomorphologic and hydrologic regimes and land use types, to provide data that capture variability and improve ecosystem-level understanding. NEON uses a standardized, consistent sampling strategy across field sites, time and focal species. Field operations crews collect observational data at regular intervals to complement data collected by automated in situ aquatic sensors. To capture a range of ecosystem processes and to detect ecosystem-level change, the aquatic observational sampling strategy samples based on temperature, water flow and peak greenness.

Integrated sampling design

Combined with aquatic sensor measurements and other NEON ecological data, aquatic organismal observations, samples and measurements provide an unprecedented opportunity to study ecosystem-level change over time. Where logistically possible, NEON colocates aquatic sites with terrestrial sites to support understanding of linkages across atmospheric, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Key aquatic observational data

NEON collects more than 200 types of physical, chemical and biological data at each aquatic site.

Types of chemical and biological data collected at NEON aquatic sites

Physical data

  • Stream stage, discharge, and morphology
  • Lake stage and bathymetry
  • Riparian vegetation mapping
  • Sediment size
  • Reaeration
  • Ice on and off dates

Biological data

  • Microbes (surface water and benthic)
  • Periphyton and phytoplankton (biomass and taxonomy)
  • Aquatic plants, algae, bryophytes and lichens (biomass and taxonomy)
  • Macroinvertebrates and zooplankton
  • Fish
  • Riparian canopy identification

Chemical data

  • Surface Water
    • Major cations and anions
    • Nutrients (dissolved and total)
    • Stable isotopes
    • Dissolved gases
    • Precipitation (at non-colocated aquatic sites)
  • Groundwater
    • Major cations and anions
    • Nutrients (dissolved and total)
    • Stable isotopes
  • Sediment
    • Trace elements
    • Metals
    • Organic matter

High-level data products derived from aquatic observations

  • In-stream, in-lake and in-river biomass
  • Aquatic microbial abundance and diversity
  • Aquatic organismal abundance and diversity
  • Water and sediment chemistry
  • Ecosystem metabolism (gross primary productivity and ecosystem respiration)
  • Stream nutrient and chemical fluxes