About Field Sites
Prairie Lake (PRLA) is an aquatic NEON field site located on the Missouri Coteau approximately 15 km (9.3 mi.) west of Pingree, North Dakota. PRLA sits in a 4.5 km2 (1112 acre) watershed, on land managed by the State of North Dakota Land Trust. The region includes a patchwork of grasslands, agricultural, and wetland/aquatic communities embedded in a matrix of small agrarian communities. The landscape at PRLA is characterized by rolling hills covered in mixed-grass prairie with a high concentration of wetlands. This site is part of NEON's Northern Plains Domain (D09). D09 has one other aquatic field site and three terrestrial field sites. PRLA is colocated with the Dakota Coteau Field School (DCFS) terrestrial field site.  
Climate in the region is continental, with wide-ranging temperature fluctuations both daily and seasonally. The area experiences temperature extremes, with bitterly cold temperatures in the winter and very hot temperatures in the summer. The lack of mountain ranges in the state allows for cold arctic air masses to drop into the state during the winter, bringing bitter cold spells. The mean annual temperature in the vicinity is 4.9°C (40.8°F)and mean annual precipitation is 489 mm (3.5 in.). Precipitation varies from year to year, with more precipitation falling during the summer months when thunderstorm activity is the highest. Weather exhibits extreme variability, with periodic droughts, hailstorms, fluctuations in temperature, and frequent strong winds. The most severe storms can produce hail, tornadoes, or damaging straight-line winds.   
The Missouri Coteau is the geologic feature that extends from east-central South Dakota through southwestern Saskatchewan. The Coteau rises 91-152 m (~300-500 ft.) above the Drift Plain to the east. It has a hilly landscape composed of knobs and kettles, which in turn are comprised of glacial till. There is also glaciofluvial material found in the area which was deposited by the stagnation of glacial ice. The geology at this site is characterized by glacial sediments of mud, clay and silt. More specifically, the parent materials are mostly Wisconsin age, fine-loamy glacial till, and alluvium derived from the till. In addition to the till, the northeastern section of the site consists of sandy and gravelly glacial outwash.   
The soil order at this site is Mollisol. The soil family is fine-loamy, mixed, superactive, frigid Typic Haplustolls. 
The area surrounding PRLA is a matrix of small lakes, ponds, and ephemeral prairie potholes. PRLA is a small "terminal wetland" lake, containing mostly sand substrate, with some macrophytes (sedges) and few areas of pebble/cobble. The bank material at the lake is peat and sedges.  
The Northern Plains Domain is dominated by prairie grasslands, including a combination of short and mid-stature grasses, and croplands. The riparian vegetation at PRLA is primarily composed of grasses and occasional trees. The surrounding area is dominated by Kentucky blue grass (Poa pretensis (L.)), silverberry (Elaeagnus commutate), and fireberry hawthorn (Crataegus chrysocarpa).  
Common mammals of the prairie pothole region include Coyote (Canis latrans), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), raccoon (Procyon lotor), and multiple species of mustelids. There are also cattle present on the landscape immediately surrounding PRLA. The prairie pothole region is an important environment for breeding water fowl and other migratory birds. The area plays host to dabbling and diving ducks; as well as various species of grebe, mergansers, shore birds, geese, and song birds. Wetlands in the area are home to turtles, non-game fish, macro invertebrates, and some amphibian species. NEON conducts electrofishing, macroinvertebrate, and zooplankton sampling protocols at the PRLA site. 
Past Land Management and Use
Native American presence in the area dates back to 10,000 years ago, following the retreat of the continental glaciers. Before European settlers arrived, the Dakota or Lakota nation, as well as the Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara groups were present in what is now North Dakota. Native Americans and Euro-Americans came into contact in the 18th Century and further American settlement commenced in 1861 following the establishment of North Dakota as a territory. In 1889, when North Dakota became a state, the federal government gifted more than 12140 km2 (3 million acres) of land to the state through the Enabling Act. The land was to be held in trust for the purpose of funding public education in the state, and was established in every North Dakota township for this purpose. Public schools were built on some parcels of land, and others were used to generate funds for schools through selling mineral rights or leasing land to local farmers for grazing. The land at this site has been transformed by agricultural activities over the last 150 years; it has no record of historical tilling.   
Current Land Management and Use
Currently the PRLA is managed by the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands and is rented out to private citizens. One quarter section north of the lake is hayed while the rest of the land is grazed by cattle.  
NEON Site Establishment
Establishment for PRLA started in early 2014, with observation sampling starting in late 2014. Aquatic sensing was fully operational in mid-2017.
 Herman, Gwyn. Johnson, Laverne. (2008) Habitats of North Dakota: Wetlands. North Dakota Game and Fish Department
 Terrestrial Observation System (TOS) Site Characterization Report: Domain 09. NEON.DOC.003893vB
 Aquatic Instrument System (AIS) Site Characterization Report: Domain 09. NEON.DOC.001670vB
 U.S. Geological Survey, 2005, Mineral Resources Data System: U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia. https://mrdata.usgs.gov/mrds/
 Department of Trust Lands. State of North Dakota. Accessed May 18, 2020 from https://www.history.nd.gov/archives/stateagencies/landdept.html.
 Thomson, Kyle. 2017. NEON Site Level Plot Summary, Dakota Coteau Field School (DCFS), June 2017.
 PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, http://prism.oregonstate.edu,created 4 Feb 2004
 North Dakota Department of Trust Lands: https://www.land.nd.gov/mission-vision-history
 State Historical Society of North Dakota: https://www.history.nd.gov/ndhistory/firstpeople.html
Remote sensing surveys of this field site collect lidar, spectrometer and high-resolution RGB camera data.
This site has one meteorological station located in the riparian area and one meteorological station above water on a buoy. The met stations are outfitted with the a subset of the same sensors used at terrestrial sites. Measurements include wind speed and direction, air temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity, shortwave radiation, and PAR.
A phenocam is pointed toward the land-water interface of the site. Here we show the images from the most recent hour. The full collection of images can be viewed on the Phenocam Gallery - click on the image below.
Field Site Data
North Dakota Land Trust
Site Access Allowed
Site Access Details
Researchers should coordinate with the site manager.
NEON Field Operations Office
Domain 09 Support Facility
NEON Field Operations Address
1503 Business Loop East
Jamestown, ND 58401
NEON Field Operations Phone
Mean Annual Temperature
Mean Annual Precipitation
Dominant NLCD Classes
USGS Geology Unit
USGS Geology Name
Glacial Sediment on Thrust Masses
USGS Lithologic Constituents
Unbedded, unsorted mixture of clay, silt, sand, and pebbles, and a few cobbles and boulders
USGS Geology Age
Pleistocene to Holocene
Related Field Sites
Other Domain D09 Field Sites
Other Field Sites in ND