Automated Instruments

NEON deploys automated instruments to collect meteorologicalsoilphenologicalsurface water and groundwater data at NEON field sites. Data are collected continuously to capture patterns and cycles across various time periods, ranging from seconds to years. NEON calibrates and quality checks sensors to minimize measurement errors and maximize the quality of collected data. The data collected by automated instrument systems (IS) are standardized but the systems vary slightly by field site type.

Combined with NEON’s observational sampling data and airborne remote sensing data surveys, these instrument data 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.

Automated Instruments at Terrestrial Field Sites

At each terrestrial field sites, NEON deploys the following systems:

  • micrometeorological tower to collect weather and climate data, including fluxes of carbon, water, and energy between the terrestrial ecosystem and the atmosphere. The weather and climate data collected by these towers are comparable to meteorological data collected at aquatic sites.
  • soil sensor array of five soil plots that are installed near the tower to measure physical and chemical properties of soil at various depths, and soil heat flux at the soil surface.
  • Precipitation gauges: Primary precipitation is collected using a Double Fence Intercomparison Reference (DFIR) at core sites, secondary precipitation is collected at all relocatable terrestrial sites (and a several core sites) using a tipping bucket on the tower. Throughfalls are also placed in the soil array at most terrestrial sites (typically excluding grasslands or sites with very low canopies).
  • Two phenocams: A phenocam is mounted at the top of each micrometeorological tower to capture above canopy phenology. A second camera as well as near the bottom of the tower to capture below canopy phenology.

Automated Instruments at Aquatic Field Sites

At aquatic field sites, NEON deploys the following systems:

  • In situ aquatic sensor stations that collect surface water quality and depth measurements.
  • Up to eight groundwater wells that collect groundwater data.
  • A riparian meteorological station to collect weather and climate data that are comparable to meteorological data collected at terrestrial field sites. And, at lake and river sites, NEON installs an above-water meteorological station.
  • Precipitation gauges: Primary precipitation is collected using a Double Fence Intercomparison Reference (DFIR) at four sites, secondary precipitation is collected six sites using a tipping bucket on the met station. For other aquatic sites, data users can reference precipitation data collected from the nearest terrestrial field site.
  • One phenocam: Image data collected by the phenocam may be used for qualitative estimates of snow cover, riparian characteristics, or weather.

Spatial and Temporal Sampling Design

At each field site, NEON collects automated instrument measurements, remote sensing data, field observations and samples in close proximity to each other and at different temporal scales. Locations of instruments and observational sampling plots are strategically placed to maximize data capture to measure the representative ecosystem of each field site. These activities allow for the quantification of ecological parameters and the detection of multi-faceted ecosystem responses to drivers of change.

Accessing NEON’s Open Access IS Data

On the NEON data portal, instrument data are categorized into the following two systems: the Terrestrial Instrument System (TIS) and the Aquatic Instrument System (AIS).

  • Please note that meteorological measurements collected in the riparian areas of aquatic field sites are designated as TIS data products.
  • All data collection protocols and processing documents may be downloaded from the portal alongside the data products they are associated with. Data accessed through the data portal interface will be downloaded into a zipped folder my field site and month.
  • Users may access data programmatically through the NEON Data API. NEON also curates a set of coding tools on GitHub that include a tool to access data using R as well as a tool to “stack” or combine downloaded data files.

Explore NEON data

Using NEON Instrument Infrastructure for Research

In addition to providing open access data and archival samples, NEON infrastructure may be used for additional research activities. Please note, that the requesting research team is responsible for covering NEON’s costs for implementing requests. Using NEON infrastructure includes four areas:

  1. Adding sensors to existing field site infrastructure
  2. Using NEON scientists to collect additional field observations at a field site
  3. Requesting a Mobile Deployment Platforms (MDP): These mobile sensor arrays may be deployed for short- to medium-term data collection projects and may be outfitted with meteorological, soil and surface water sensors
  4. Requesting an airborne remote sensing survey

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