Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
If you have questions, please review the FAQs below, which are divided into sections by topic. If you cannot find an answer to your question, please contact us.
Q: What is the NEON program?
A: The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is a large facility program operated by Battelle and funded by the National Science Foundation. NEON is a continental-scale research platform for discovering and understanding the impacts of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species on ecology. NEON gathers long-term data on ecological responses of the biosphere to changes in land use and climate and on feedbacks with the geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.
Q: Where is NEON? How were sites chosen?
A: The National Ecological Observatory Network includes 81 field sites across 20 ecoclimatic Domainsthat cover the contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Each Domain represents a distinct region of vegetation, landforms, climate, and ecosystem performance. Domain boundaries were determined using a statistical clustering algorithm and data developed by William Hargrove and Forrest Hoffman of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Site locations were chosen for a variety of reasons, including scientific criteria and permitting logistics. NEON is a national Observatory, not a collection of regional observatories. Data are collected at field sites and sent to a headquarters location in Boulder, Colorado. Data are processed and then made available via the internet. NEON also has 18 field offices (Domain support facilities) staffed by field scientists who manage the observational data collection and instrumentation at field sites.
Q: Why are certain types of data collected?
A: The measurements being taken at NEON sites were determined through a lengthy planning process involving extensive input from the scientific community in the early stages of NEON's conception, as well as input from committees of subject matter experts. In 2009, a list of measurements was presented as part of reviews by the NEON Science, Technology, and Education, Advisory Committee (STEAC), a blue-ribbon panel coordinated by the NSF, as well as in the preliminary and final design reviews for NEON. The final selection of measurements was determined by analyzing whether the measurement was essential to provide a NEON data product to address specific science questions. Browse the Explore Data Products webpage for more information.
Q: What happens to research and projects already underway in areas where NEON sites were constructed?
A: Projects currently underway at sites will continue and we do not expect any disruption to occur.
Q: What was the construction schedule for the NEON Infrastructure?
A: NEON began construction in Summer 2012, and was completed in May 2019. Data are being collected at all 81 field sites. See Observatory Status for details.
Q: What formal reviews did NEON participate prior to construction?
A: The National Ecological Observatory Network passed a successful Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in June 2009 and Final Design Review (FDR) in November 2009 by panels convened by the NSF.
Q: Will there be NEON staff at each Domain? Did NEON construct facilities to support them?
A: There are 18 field offices that consist of a Field Operations Manager, administrative support, and approximately five technicians whose primary responsibilities are to operate and maintain field site infrastructure. In addition, seasonal staff are contracted to do biological field sampling. NEON does not construct new facilities for field staff; NEON leases existing office and laboratory space.
Q: Will NEON be developing new sensors and technologies for ecological observation?
A: No - NEON is not created to develop new technologies. At this point, NEON's design incorporates existing technologies (some at the cutting edge) to achieve its science mission.
Q: NEON is expected to endure for decades. Will the same technology be applied over the full deployment period?
A: We expect all sensors and instrumentation to have finite lifetimes, so as part of NEON planning, routine maintenance and instrument replacements will be scheduled. Replacements offer an opportunity for upgrades to new technology within the constraints of budget and measurement requirements for precision and accuracy. Quality control procedures will be implemented when instruments are replaced to assure data continuity and comparability.
Q: Will material from the NEON collections be available to users from the community? Can we do additional analyses on NEON material? How will I gain access?
A: Yes, material is available on an as-available basis from the NEON Biorepository, subject to sample preservation requirements. A curated collection of organisms, key body parts of organisms, and substrates are open to researchers for analysis, both now and in the future as new technologies emerge. Some portion of the collection will also allow for destructive analysis of samples, while preserving some material permanently. The collections are primarily stored at the NEON Biorepository, as well as a few other partner facilities (museums and other collections).
Q: What are NEON's Mobile Deployment Platforms?
A: NEON mobile sensor arrays, called Mobile Deployment Platforms (MDPs), are available on a request basis. Much like requesting an airborne remote sensing survey, this resource is based on availability and the requester is responsible for covering the costs of the deployment. MDPs can be configured to collect a variety of meteorological, soil, and surface water data for short- to medium-term monitoring projects. Learn more.
Q: What is the difference between NEON and the Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER)? Is NEON just an expansion of the LTER program?
A: NEON is a centrally operated user facility that enables responses to challenging questions in the environmental sciences and enables ecological forecasting. In contrast, the LTER program is a collection of individual investigator projects aligned with common themes. Each individual LTER site has its own realization of those themes. NEON and LTER are separate programs that operate separately, although NEON will certainly use the experience and knowledge gained through LTER research.
Q: How will my institution benefit from NEON?
A: The NEON facility was designed to be a resource for any wishing to use it; regardless of institutional affiliation, scientists, students, educators, and the public will have open and equal access to NEON. Over time, we look forward to providing many different types of data, infrastructure, models, and education programs to engage anyone who wants to learn about and use ecological data.
Q: How do I get my students involved in NEON-related research?
A: NEON facilities are open to students and researchers at all levels, and they are welcome to access our data for any projects they would like to conduct. In addition, we offer online data skills tutorials, teaching modules designed for undergraduate classrooms, science videos, and other resources. We also recommend exploring the Faculty Mentoring Networks (FMN), which support faculty using NEON data in their classrooms, and a partnered internship program providing hands on experience.
Q: How do I find out about job opportunities at NEON?
A: Information about job opportunities is posted on our careers page. NEON has opportunities for permanent and term employment as well as visiting scientist opportunities for short term, focused tasks.
Q: Why did NEON build from the ground up when there is already a huge network of ecological monitoring activities available across the United States?
A: The National Science Foundation's goal with building the NEON facility is to enable analyses of ecological processes and patterns at regional to continental scales. This requires that measurements and samples be collected using highly standardized methods and instrumentation so that data can be easily compared among sites and scaled up over larger areas.
Q: Should I create a NEON User Account?
A: Although it is not required to create an account and log in, doing so can provide numerous benefits for you and for NEON. Please learn more about User Accounts. We will never give or sell your email address or other personal information to anyone. We have an obligation to record and report user demographic information and general data access activity to NEON's sole funder, the National Science Foundation. We may use your anonymized account information to help us develop usage metrics and to improve the quality of services for all users. It's free and easy! Just click on the Sign In button on the top right of the home page and fill out the form. When you have signed in, a My Account link will appear next to the Sign In link in the header area. Click on the link and you will be taken to the My Account screen where you can update your personal profile.
Data and Infrastructure Use
Q: What are the options for funding from NEON for NEON-related research?
A: NEON provides data, infrastructure and educational programs, but not funding. Research related to the Observatory may be supported through existing and future funding mechanism at Federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, and through other funding soures.
Q: What is the process for obtaining permission to use NEON data and/or physical infrastructure in my research?
A: Please see our Research Support page for complete guidance on conducting research involving NEON data and/or infrastructure.
Q: What types of documentation do you provide with the data?
A: First, check out the Document Library. This is a rich resource of many types of documents, including overarching science designs, site characterization reports, spatial data, protocols (both from NEON and external labs that NEON contracts work with), data processing documentation (also known as Algorithm Theoretical Basis Documents, or ATBDs), and User Guides for observational data products. If you use any of these documents, please cite them as you would with any other publication. Data packages may contain some of these documents, specific to the data product downloaded. Each data package also may contain a readme file, a machine-readable form of the readme file using the Ecological Metadata Language (EML) format, and a file that describes all of the variables available for the data product. Observational data products include a file that includes the validation rules used when ingesting the data.
Q: Do you update your documentation?
A: Yes, we update our documentation as frequently as needed. In the Document Library, you will find a few sub folders called "Obsolete Protocols" and "Past Versions". Most of our documents use a lettering system for versioning, starting with "DRAFT", then vA, vB, etc. We also update readme files and EML files on an as-needed basis. Newer data packages may have updates to their readme and EML files that are not present in older data packages.
Q: What is Ecological Metadata Language (EML)?
A: EML is a widely used, community supported XML schema that supports rich documentation of data related to ecological research, particularly including environmental, ecological, and earth science data. It is supported by The Knowledge Network for Biodiversity (KNB); more information may be found here. The EML available at this time is NEON’s first implementation of the schema and will continue to be improved. EML is valuable for batch-processing or integrating many data packages. KNB provides a stand-alone software package, Morpho, for generating EML-documented data packages. The emlpackage for reading and writing EML is available from rOpenSci,a community-driven organization that develops and provides free and open-source tools. Our Data Tutorials section includes Time Series 01: Why Metadata Are Important: How to Work with Metadata in Text & EML Formatas well as numerous tutorials about R, python, and data.
Q: I’m new to the type of data I’ve downloaded. Where can I get help?
A: There are a number of resources available for training and self-learning about the different types of data that NEON provides. Check out the Resources link in the data portal's navigation menu, and the Data Product Details page for each data product (follow links on the Explore Data page). You can also ask specific questions through the data portal Feedback page - your question will be routed to the science team relevant to the data product you select from a drop down list.
Q: Do you provide guidelines for using and citing NEON data?
A: Yes, please see our open NEON Data Usage and Citation Policy. This policy is subject to revision as needed.
Q: Do you provide unique identifiers (like DOIs) for your datasets?
A: Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) are associated with each data product in each static Data Release (release annually). DOIs are also provided for each Prototype Data set. For more information, please see our Data Product Revisions and Releases webpage.
Q: How much does NEON data cost to use?
A: Use of NEON data is free! Our data products are open data. We ask that users cite the data and NEON appropriately in your research.
Q: What is an API?
A: If you are unfamiliar with an API, think of it as a 'middleperson' that provides a communication path for a software application to obtain information from a digital data source. APIs are becoming a very common means of sharing digital information. Many of the apps that you use on your computer or mobile device to produce maps, charts, reports, and other useful forms of information pull data from multiple sources using APIs. In the ecological and environmental sciences, many researchers use APIs to programmatically query and obtain data for their analyses.
Q: How do I find data?
A: With many data products and field sites to choose from, exploring NEON data may feel a bit overwhelming. There are two ways to get started: Option 1: Type in what you are looking for in the search bar on the homepage of the data portal.You can search by any word or phrase of your choice, including by keyword, data product name, data product ID, year, site, or Domain. Phrases that have more than one word should be surrounded by quotes, for example "biological temperature". Click Enter and the search will take you to a pre-filtered selection of data products (if the search term was found) in the Explore Data Products page. Option 2: Navigate to the Explore Data Products page. Use the search bar and/or the filter options on the left side of the page to explore data products by search phrase or keyword, date range, availability, science team, location (site, state, domain), or theme. To reset your filters, click on the blue "Reset All Filters" button at the top left.To learn more about any given data product, click on the Product Details button to the right of a data product name.
Q: What information can I get if I use the API?
Q: What does the chart below each data product in the Explore Data Products page represent?
A: This chart shows whether data are available for any given spatial location for any given month. Gray represents that data are unavailable, and blue represents that at least some data are available. A blue box does not indicate that data are complete for that location/month combination. The default view, Summary, rolls up the availability of data across all sites. If data are available for at least one site for a given month, then the box at that month will appear blue. If the box is gray, there is no data available for that month at any site. If you click on the Site button, the graph will expand to show availability for each site denoted by its four-letter abbreviation. Clicking on State or Domain will roll up availability similarly to the Summary view. For example, if State is chosen and there is a blue box available for a given month, then data are available at least one site in that state for the month of interest.
Q: How do I download data?
A: Once you have selected data of interest in the Explore Data Products page, click on the Download Data button. The interface will guide you through several steps to select sites and date range, which documentation files to include, and other data-product specific items. It will ask you to affirm that you agree to the Data Usage and Citation Policies, and show the estimated size of the data package you are requesting. When all steps are complete, you will be at the last step and will be able to click the Download Data button to start your download.
Q: Can I download more than one data product at a time?
A: At this time, only one data product may be downloaded in a single download request, with the exception of the Bundled data products. However, data from the entire possible date range and several sites for a specific data product can be downloaded in a single request. Be careful to check the size of the download you have requested - they can be rather large and take a long time to download.
Q: Is there a limit to how much data I can download at one time?
A: There currently is no limit except for your patience. However, you may wish to check the size of your requested package before hitting the download button, as a package of many gigabytes could take a long time to download. If your request is much larger than you are comfortable with downloading, please contact us for help.
Q: What is a data product?
A: NEON measures a diverse suite of biological, physical, chemical and ecological characteristics at field sites across the continent. NEON data are sent to headquarters after site construction is complete and data collection begins. The Observatory processes these measurements to derive standard, quality-assured data products that support greater understanding of complex ecological processes at local, regional and continental scales. Available NEON data, supporting metadata, science designs, data collection documentation, and data processing documentation are accessible through the NEON Data Portal. For more information, please visit the Data Processing webpage on the NEON web portal.
Q: What is a data package?
A: A data package is a zip file containing a collection of data and metadata files. This zipped data package is dynamically generated when you submit a query consisting of a data product, one or more sites, and a date range to the data portal.
Q: How are data files organized?
A: Observational and instrumented data products (with the exception of eddy covariance data) are divided into many small files in the Comma Separated Values (CSV) format. Each file contains data for a single data product at one site over one month, and at an additional level of granularity. For observational data products, the level of granularity is a type of data collection activity. For example, in the ground beetle trapping data, this includes individual tables for field data, sorting, initial identification, and later expert identification (if needed). A file containing metadata about data validation is also included. For instrumented data products (except for eddy covariance), the level of granularity is the vertical and/or horizontal position of the sensor collecting the data. A single field site often has multiple sensors of the same type (for example, soil moisture sensors along an array), each at a different location. Eddy covariance data are delivered in the Hierarchical Data Format (HDF5)as a 'bundle' of many data products that are not delivered individually. Similarly to other instrumented data products, each data file contains data for a single site and month. The Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) only flies over each site once in a year. AOP data files are organized by data product and site (sometimes two sites if they are close to one another), and year of collection. The data portal and API allow for a more granular approach to downloading data files because files may be very large.Each science subsystem (observational, instrumental, eddy covariance, and airborne) uses its own naming convention for data files. For more information about these conventions, visit the File Naming Conventions webpage.
Q: What do I do with all of these zip files?
A: For any of our observational or instrumented data products, we provide R and python tools to help you combine the files into tables you can easily use in your analyses. We provide a tutorial, Download and Explore NEON Data, which explains how to use our neonUtilities R package.
Remote Sensing / Airborne Observation Platform (AOP)
Q: Where can I find information about when AOP will be surveying a particular NEON site?
A: Each year NEON posts the upcoming flight season’s campaign schedule, which includes start and end dates for airborne surveys at each site. Please see our flight schedule page for more information.
Q: Can I request that AOP survey a location outside of the NEON site network?
A: Yes. AOP participates in the Assignable Asset program, a service provided to researchers interested in collecting data at sites not directly affiliated with the NEON network. Please see the Assignable Asset Program for more information on AOP flight campaigns.
Q: What if I find flightline matching inconsistencies?
A: Flightlines may not (and in many cases will not) match from year to year if sites are flown with different sensors and are not linked to the spectrometer flightlines. The best way to find matching lines, if you are not using the tiled data, is to pull in the metadata kmls which show the boundaries of each line and then can be manually matched.
Q: Are AOP data available in cloud-computing environments like Google Earth Engine?
A: NEON is exploring the possibility of sharing AOP data through Google Earth Engine in order to facilitate large data volume processing in conjunction with satellite data. A timeline for when these data will be available has not yet been established, but updates will be communicated through the NEON Science website.
Q: What are the major differences between lidar data acquired with the Riegl v. Optech sensors?
A: As operated by NEON, the Optech Gemini produces laser pulses with a beam divergence of 0.8 mRad and has an outgoing pulse width of 10 ns. The RieglQ780 is operated with a beam divergence of 0.3 mRad and has an outgoing pulse width of 3 ns. These hardware parameters have two important consequences for NEON data. The beam divergence defines how large the laser beam footprint will be when it interacts with the landscape. At the typical flying height of 1000 m, the 0.8 mRad and 0.3 mRad beam divergence settings results in a laser beam diameter of 0.8 and 0.3 meters respectively when the laser energy reaches the ground. A larger beam size results in increased ambiguity in the ground object that generated the return signal. The outgoing pulse width is directly related to the range resolution of the sensor. The range resolution defines the minimum separation between two objects required to generate multiple returns. The 10 ns and 3 ns outgoing pulse widths result in range resolutions of approximately 2 m and 2/3 m respectively. This indicates that objects shorter than the range resolution cannot be conclusively separated from the ground.
EFI-NEON Ecological Forecasting Challenge
Q: Where do I get biomass data for NEON sites?
A: NEON does not produce a biomass data product, but the data to calculate biomass are available. Explore: Herbaceous clip harvest (DP1.10023.001); Vegetation structure (DP1.10098.001); Root sampling periodic (DP1.10067.001) and megapit (DP1.10066.001); Coarse downed wood bulk density sampling (DP1.10014.001) and log survey (DP1.10010.001); and Aquatic plant bryophyte macroalgae clip harvest (DP1.20066.001).