Three ways scientists can use NEON today

November 02, 2015

By Leslie Goldman

Are you an early career scientist or a tenured professor teaching science? Are you interested in LiDAR, atmospheric data, organismal data, biogeochemistry data or ecohydrology? Here’s a quick overview of how you can use NEON today:

#1 - Get data and samples

Although NEON is still under construction, here is an overview of the various data and samples you can work with now and how to find them.

Explore preliminary sensor and field data on the data portal

Preliminary sensor and sampling data from 33 NEON field sites are now available on the NEON Data Portal. Currently, you may find different datasets depending on the field site you select. However, here is a list of data products that are available for varying time periods from varying sites:

Atmospheric data

  • 2D wind speed and direction
  • Single Aspirated Air Temperature
  • Triple Aspirated Air Temperature
  • Barometric Pressure
  • IR Biological Temperature
  • Precipitation
  • Shortwave Radiation (Direct and Diffuse Pyranometer)
  • Shortwave Radiation (Primary Pyranometer)
  • Shortwave and Longwave Radiation (Net radiometer)
  • Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR)
  • Spectral Sun Photometer - Calibrated Sky Radiances
  • Photosynthetically active radiation (Quantum Line)
  • Relative Humidity

Biogeochemistry data

  • Chemical properties of groundwater
  • Chemical properties of surface water
  • Soil physical properties (Megapit)
  • Soil chemical properties (Megapit)

Ecohydrology data

  • Stream discharge field collection

Organisms, Populations, Communities data

  • Ground beetles sampled from pitfall traps
  • Plant phenology observations
  • Plant presence and percent cover
  • Small mammal box trapping
  • Herbaceous clip harvest

Tips for browsing the data portal

Due to current limitations of NEON data portal, some data requests may take a long time to complete. To improve your user experience, you might want to try the following:

  • Keep your queries small - select only 1 or 2 sites at a time, and select only a few months at a time.
  • Create an account to download datasets:
  • If you login prior to making requests for data packages, the system will store your request enabling you to check back later to see the results.
  • Since the system stores your requests, you can easily keep track of all your queries over time.

In the meantime, the NEON Cyberinfrastructure team is hard at work developing a robust portal that can handle the massive amounts of data the observatory will be providing over the next thirty years. Accessing data will be improved in stages over the next year, and is expected to be dramatically faster before the end of 2016. We are always looking for feedback from the community on how to improve the data portal. Here’s another way to get involved: please send your thoughts via the feedback form link on this page!

Are Airborne Data your style?

The NEON Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) is an aircraft platform carrying remote sensing instrumentation designed to achieve sub-meter to meter scale ground resolution, bridging scales from organisms and individual stands of vegetation to satellite-based remote sensing. Once NEON is in full operations, the AOP will do annual flights over most NEON field sites.

We’ve already conducted several flight campaigns over the last several years and data from these campaigns are available now. Data include the following:

LiDAR Data

  • DSM (Digital Surface Model; full mosaic)
  • DTM (Digital Terrain Model; full mosaic)
  • CHM (Canopy Height Model; full mosaic)
  • Slope and Aspect (full mosaics)
  • Classified point clouds (points classified as ground, building, vegetation, and unclassified; 1km2 tiles)
  • Unclassified point clouds (points by flight line)
  • KML (site and flight line boundaries)
  • Full waveform data

Hyperspectral Data

  • Surface reflectance, recorded across 426 narrow spectral bands extending from 380 to 2510 nm with a spectral sampling of five nm. Vegetation indices including NDVI, EVI, ARVI, Xanthophyll and Lignin

Camera Data

  • Orthorectified digital photographs

Field Data

  • Foliar chemistry (D17)
  • Vegetation structure (D17)
  • ASD Spectral Data

Due to the size of NEON’s airborne data sets, these data are currently available upon request.

Learn more about available airborne data now.

What about samples?

A few types of samples are available upon request at this time, including soil samples. Soil samples are collected at NEON sites for a number of NEON applications. Making these soil samples available to the greater scientific community is fundamental to the NEON mission.

Request soil samples here.

Beetle and mosquito specimen and barcode records

NEON has been submitting specimens and barcode records to the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) since 2011. These data include specimens and records of beetles and mosquitoes sampled at NEON field sites. As of October, 2015, NEON has shared over 3,000 specimen records with BOLD. In 2013, NEON even found a new ground beetle species in the Abacidus subgenus.

Explore NEON specimen records on BOLD’s Public Data Portal by searching the phrase “National Ecological Observatory Network, United States”

#2 - Enhance your data analysis skills in your own time, online

NEON collaborates with a host of scientific and academic organizations to develop tutorials, videos and graphics that can be used to teach big data analysis techniques and concepts. All resources are freely available on the NEON Data Skills Portal and use free open source, analysis tools such as QGIS, R, Python and free online visualization tools such as and The materials on this website can be used to teach yourself the skills or for educators to use as supplemental teaching materials for their students.

Online self-paced tutorials

Some of the topics on the NEON Data Skills website include:

  • LiDAR
  • R programming
  • Data visualization
  • Spatial data and GIS
  • Hyperspectral remote sensing
  • HDF5 (Hierarchical Data Formats)

Explore materials now.

Online, short animated science videos

Also check out NEON's animated video series focused on teaching key data concepts. All the videos were created in collaboration with key topic experts in the science community to ensure that the material content is scientifically accurate. Videos include:

  • Mapping the invisible - Intro to spectral remote sensing

  • How LiDAR systems work

  • How we measure photosynthesis

  • Introduction to LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)

Explore videos now.

#3 - Contribute to NEON data lessons and online resources

There are many organizations and people out there working on lessons, tutorials and more to help next generation scientists improve their data skills. Whether it’s moving from Excel to R or learning how to create seamless maps in raster or gridded format, NEON’s educational resources are open access.

If you are passionate about open science, working with big data and leveraging the long term, large-scale data that will come out of NEON for the next 30 years, please consider partnering with us and contributing lessons and resources.

Learn more.

Dialog content.