The NEON program is excited to welcome our first cohort of Postdoctoral Fellows! Starting in January 2021, these three early-career scientists will be working in collaboration with NEON staff and the wider user community to leverage NEON data for scientific discovery.
Each fellow submitted a research proposal earlier this year describing how they would use data from the NEON program. Fellowships were awarded based on how the proposals leveraged the unique characteristics of NEON data, including:
- Synthesis of continental-scale or decadal-scale datasets
- Synthesis of data to enable ecological forecasting
- Temporal or spatial scaling of approaches
- Integration of disparate data streams across the Observatory (for example, integrating remote sensing data with terrestrial or aquatic observation systems)
- Increasing diversity and inclusion in NEON user communities
Fellows receive funding for two years and will work with mentors from the NEON staff and from collaborating research institutions. Their work will contribute to the mission of the NEON program by generating scientific discoveries and peer-reviewed papers using NEON data and engaging the scientific community with NEON's unique datasets. The fellows may also contribute to generation of new tools to facilitate the use of NEON data.
Meet the 2021 postdocs!
Kelly Aho: Studying the Biogeochemistry of Streams and Rivers
Kelly Aho grew up on an island in southeast Alaska where she fell in love with the wilderness and the environment. Her work focuses on biogeochemical fluxes in streams and rivers and the ways these aquatic environments interact with terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. "Streams and rivers are so dynamic—they are hot spots in the ecosystem, with the potential to both move material and drive biogeochemical processes. There are so many interesting questions to answer about them," she says.
Kelly earned her B.A. in Biology from Dartmouth. After spending two years in the Peace Corps working on sustainable development projects in Panama, she returned to Yale for her masters and Ph.D. in Environmental Science. Her dissertation examined how hydrology controls dissolved greenhouse gases in streams and rivers at various temporal scales ranging from annual to episodic.
She is excited to continue exploring the biogeochemistry of streams and rivers on a larger spatial scale with the NEON program. "It's so exciting to have access to this amazing continental-scale dataset," she says. "What the NEON program provides is so much more than any one person or lab can do. And they have so many ancillary measurements beyond just the dissolved gas data." She would like to use the data to explore complex interactions between streams and rivers and terrestrial landscapes and answer critical questions about how ecosystems function. This work will build on her dissertation research by examining how controls vary across wider spatial scales, such as how landscapes and terrestrial processes impact the flux of dissolved greenhouse gases in streams and rivers.
Alesia Hallmark: Scaling Up Phenological Observations
Alesia Hallmark says, "I'm one of those people who has wanted to do the same thing for my entire life. I grew up watching nature documentaries and walking around my neighborhood with a notebook taking notes on plants and animals and where they lived. When I grew up and realized this could be a job, it was perfect!"
Since then, she's channeled those lifelong interests into a career in ecology. She holds a dual B.S. in Botany and Zoology from the Oklahoma State University and earned her masters and Ph.D. in Biology from the University of New Mexico. Her research at UNM, conducted at the Sevilleta Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in New Mexico, focuses on how desert plant communities are changing in response to drought and rising temperatures and how these changes impact the ability of the landscape to sequester carbon.
Alesia's primary interest in ecology is phenology, or the timing of biological events. Her proposed project for the NEON program will utilize the phenocams mounted on NEON flux towers to compare phenological events captured on camera with observations in the field. She hopes this work will help to scale and connect datasets, so that camera observations could be used to provide accurate phenological data across larger spatial scales. "I want to provide datasets that are informative for animal researchers, such as dataset that quantify the abundance and timing of food resources," she explains. Ultimately, she would like to focus on data analysis for large, distributed ecology networks like LTER and the NEON program.
Kelly Hondula: Linking Remote Sensing and Aquatic Datasets
Kelly Hondula wants to resolve one of the biggest uncertainties in the global methane budget: the link between the hydrology of aquatic ecosystems and their methane emissions. "It's a weird mapping problem," she explains. "We don't yet have maps of wetland areas at a high enough temporal and spatial resolution to understand how they are changing in ways that affect where methane emissions are produced."
Kelly began her career as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, with a dual major in Environmental Sciences and Environmental Thought and Practice, an interdisciplinary program linking environmental science to disciplines such as literature, business, and economics. After finishing her Masters in Environmental Science at UVA, she completed an internship at the Ecological Society of America and worked at the NSF-funded National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). She is finishing her Ph.D. in Marine, Estuarine, and Environmental Sciences in January 2021 at the University of Maryland. For her dissertation, she studied and modeled methane emissions in forested wetlands on Maryland's eastern shore.
At the NEON program, she plans to continue her focus on the intersection between hydrological processes and the biogeochemistry of aquatic environments. She will be working to link remote sensing data from the NEON Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) with data from the aquatic observation systems. "We're trying to understand how we can use data from the AOPs to understand and scale up process-level measurements from sensors and lab samples at aquatic sites," she says. In addition to working with a NEON mentor, she will be working with Dr. Erin Hotchkiss of Virginia Tech and Dr. Mirela Tulbure of the Geospatial Analysis for Environmental Change lab at North Carolina State University.