NEON and LTER Share Space and Data in Pacific Northwest

Aquatic sampling at MCRA

Aquatic sampling at MCRA


December 2017

The H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, located in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, has long been home to a field research site for the Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER). Now, it also hosts a NEON aquatic field site (MCRA) including a variety of automated aquatic and atmospheric instruments. The two groups are discovering opportunities to support each other’s work as they share space at H.J. Andrews and six other LTER field sites.

LTER is a nationwide network with 28 field sites supporting a broad range of ecological research activities for a diverse group of more than 2,000 researchers. The sites have generated a rich set of ecological data, which goes back nearly 40 years at some locations.

McRae Creek in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest has been the location of many research studies. LTER has been active at H.J. Andrews since the 1980s. At McRae Creek, they conduct stream research and maintain a meteorological station. NEON field ecologists began biological and water chemistry sampling in June at the NEON aquatic site on McRae creek, and NEON's automated sensors came online in October. NEON will be conducting observational sampling and using automated instruments to measure water and atmospheric conditions just upstream of LTER’s site.

The additional data collected by NEON could provide significant value for LTER researchers. NEON’s aquatic sensor and observational data and samples could be used to supplement LTER’s data and specimen collection efforts to provide greater insight into the factors that impact biodiversity and plant and animal species abundance in the area. Because NEON data collection is standardized across field sites, it also offers a rich source of comparative data that LTER researchers and others can tap into. Ben Vierra, the Field Operations Manager for NEON’s Domain 16, Pacific Northwest (covering Washington, Oregon, southeast Alaska and northern California), says, “LTER and NEON are among the largest and most active ecological research programs in the world. Working together and sharing space will provide a boost to the interoperability of data collected by both groups.”

NEON also will be collecting data through its Airborne Remote Sensing program. NEON Airborne Observation Platforms (AOPs) collect high-resolution measurements of numerous physical, biological and biochemical properties using remote sensing instruments mounted on a low-flying airplane. Data from these flights include vegetation cover and dominant vegetation type, vegetation height, Leaf Area Index (LAI), canopy chemistry, topography, and vegetation condition and health. NEON will make annual remote sensing flights over the entire H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest during peak greenness starting in 2018. These measurements provide a broader view of ecological changes and health across the entire area that researchers from LTER and other institutions will be able to use to supplement on-the-ground observations.

NEON and LTER have already established a strong collaborative relationship at H.J. Andrews and other field sites. LTER researchers helped in efforts to secure permitting for the NEON field site at McRae Creek. LTER and NEON, along with the International Soil Modeling Consortium (ISMC) and the Critical Zone Observatory (CZO), will be collaborating on a workshop in February 2018: Using Observation Networks to Advance Earth System Understanding.  

The H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest is maintained by the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. National Forest Service. The remote site presents logistical challenges to researchers working in the area. NEON sensor infrastructure is fueled by a propane fuel cell system, as the area is too remote to bring in outside power. Rugged conditions, combined with substantial snowfall in the winter, have made access and equipment installation challenging. The NEON team is purchasing a UTV with snow tracks for winter access. This September, the team had to evacuate the site due to wildfires in the area.

The challenging conditions make collaboration and friendly relations between the two networks even more important. Both NEON and LTER look forward to seeing the relationship evolve over the next several years.