NEON Field Staff Gear Up for 2018 Field Sampling Season

February 2018

Battelle ecologists from across the U.S. recently came together at two “Training Paloozas,” one for aquatic and one for terrestrial observational sampling. The week-long trainings provided an opportunity for field staff to review data collection methods, share ideas and best practices, learn new equipment and processes, and delve into the science behind the methods.

Data quality is critical to the success of the NEON project. To ensure that data are scalable across all 20 NEON domains, terrestrial and aquatic sampling and measurement methods must be comparable across the NEON field sites. The Training Paloozas are one strategy used to ensure that field measurements and samples are gathered in the same way by all of the field teams. The attendees will be responsible for training seasonal field staff and ensuring that all data gathered at their sites conforms to rigorous quality standards. 

Each workshop included a variety of roundtable discussions, practicums and hands-on learning opportunities tailored to the specific needs of the field staff.

  • The Aquatic Training Palooza took place January 15–19 in Decatur, Texas and included 32 field staff and 19 science, engineering, safety, operations and education team members. Sessions focused on electrical safety, water safety, remote monitoring, data quality control, troubleshooting methods and the science behind the NEON aquatic site design. Participants had ample time for hands-on training at a stream site that covered DNA sampling methods, morphology measurements, and staff gauge preventative maintenance procedures. They also learned how to access and use the data products in the NEON data portal.
  • The Terrestrial Observational Sampling (TOS) Training Palooza took place January 29–February 2 at NEON headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. It was attended by 41 field staff and 23 NEON science, operations and education team members. Meeting at NEON headquarters gave TOS staff the opportunity to talk directly to science and operations staff supporting the NEON project as a whole and learn how the work they do at terrestrial sites fits into the bigger picture of the NEON project. A half-day Situational Leadership Crucial Conversations training session with Alice Wickham, Battelle’s Senior Learning Specialist, was designed to prepare participants to train and lead the seasonal field crews who will conduct much of the summer sampling work at the terrestrial sites. A series of roundtable discussions with science staff explored specific topics such as pathogens, plant diversity, soil horizons, vegetation structure, mammals and phenology. Other sessions focused on data quality control, the use of the NEON data portal, sample tracking, lab practices, decontamination practices and other topics critical for collection of quality data. Participants also attended a workshop on speaking to the public about the NEON project.

This was the 5th annual Training Palooza for the TOS field staff (though the first to be held at headquarters). Aquatic field staff have had more frequent training over the last two years as the aquatic field sites have become fully operational, including a workshop in August 2017 focusing on the instrumented systems. Moving forward, they plan to continue with an annual Training Palooza schedule. These winter workshops allow the field teams to calibrate methods with each other and with science staff before starting a new season of sampling and data collection.

Liz Knapp, Sr. Curriculum Developer, says, “Our field ecologists are extremely conscientious about what they do and very concerned with the quality of the data they collect. These Training Paloozas will further develop the skills and knowledge they need to do their jobs well, ensure that our seasonal field staff are properly trained and correctly follow procedures, and maintain data quality and consistency of collection methods across the Observatory.”

The Training Paloozas have been well received by attendees, especially the roundtable session with the scientists and hands-on field training. Attendees also appreciated the opportunities to connect with each other. One TOS participant said, “This is my favorite part about Paloozas—getting to swap resources, tips and tricks!”

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