Data Collection

Data collection methods

At each field site, NEON collects a standard suite of data that characterize soil, water, organisms and atmosphere based on the site’s terrestrial or aquatic focus. Data are collected using a combination of field sampling methods by field technicians, as well as sensor-derived and airborne remote methods at varying space and time scales. Standard data collection methods ensure comparability of patterns and processes across NEON sites and through time. When construction is complete, NEON will collect data at 47 terrestrial and 34 aquatic sites.

Data by type: aquatic and terrestrial

Sensors and sampling methods differ between terrestrial and aquatic sites but share an overarching goal of detecting ecological change through time. Where logistically possible, NEON colocates terrestrial and aquatic sites to capture connections across atmospheric, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. NEON processes these data to derive data products that quantify ecosystem change; these data may be combined with other NEON data or external datasets.

Collection Methods at both Aquatic and Terrestrial sites

At terrestrial and some aquatic sites, NEON collects data that characterize plants, land cover and ecosystem structure using the following methods:

  • Airborne Remote Sensing

    A NEON AOP is an array of instruments installed into a light aircraft to collect high resolution remote sensing data at low altitude. Airborne remote sensing surveys are conducted over NEON field sites during peak greenness to collect quantitative information of each field site on land cover and changes to ecological structure and chemistry, including the presence and effects of invasive species across landscapes.

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Collection Methods at Aquatic Sites

Aquatic sites are located at streams, lakes and rivers within NEON domains. NEON collects a standard suite of data that characterize aquatic plants and other organisms, sediment and water quality using the following methods:

  • Aquatic Observations

    NEON captures in situ data related to stream and lake morphology, as well as hydrologic and climatic conditions. The project samples key organisms (e.g., fish), macroinvertebrates and riparian phenology based on temperature, water flow and peak greenness. 

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  • Aquatic Sensor Measurements

    The project uses suites of aquatic sensors in streams, lakes and rivers featured at NEON sites to collect data ranging from water quality measurements to localized atmospheric measurements.

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Collection Methods at Terrestrial Sites

At terrestrial sites, NEON collects data that characterize terrestrial plants, animals, soil and the atmosphere using the following methods:

  • Flux Tower Measurements

    Located at all terrestrial sites, NEON equips tower systems with sensors that track fluxes of gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor, and collects data about physical and chemical climate conditions, such as temperature, barometric pressure and visible light or Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR). 

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  • Soil Sensors and Measurements

    Soil measurement plots and in situ samples provide estimates of soil moisture, soil organic carbon, root growth and phenology, temperature and heat flux. 

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  • Terrestrial Organismal Sampling

    At all terrestrial sites, NEON measures and observes animals, plants and microbes in situ and collects data such as species abundance and diversity, infectious diseases, population dynamics, plant chemistry and biomass.

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