NASA Technology to Buoy NEON Airborne Observations

November 28, 2011

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has completed the first of three high fidelity imaging spectrometers for use on the NEON project, known as the NEON Imaging Spectrometer Design Verification Unit (NISDVU). The NISDVU, developed as part of NEON’s design and development phase to mitigate risks associated with creation of the AOP, is expected to be delivered at NEON headquarters by mid-December.

NEON has awarded a $10M contract to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for two more imaging spectrometers needed to complete the instrumentation to fully operate its Airborne Observation Platform (AOP). The contract covers the design, manufacture and alignment of the spectrometers. The imaging spectrometer is deployed as part of a suite of instruments that makes up the AOP and will be used on three aircraft that fly routine patterns over all NEON sites. Measurements taken by AOP instruments will provide detailed aerial data about regional landscapes and vegetation. That information, combined with land use data and hundreds of ground-based sensor and field measurements, will provide a means for scaling data taken from small areas on the ground at all of the NEON sites to the continental scale. “Imaging Spectrometers represent a significant advance in research capability for the ecological community,” said Thomas Kampe, Program Lead for the AOP. “Pest and pathogen outbreaks, invasive plant spread, responses to disturbances like wildfire, and many features of land use can be readily observed and quantified at a much larger scale using the powerful combination of biochemical and structural information provided by spectroscopy and waveform LiDAR.”

JPL is expected to complete the final two imaging spectrometers within two years. "For the past two decades, JPL has invested in key designs and technologies to enable high fidelity imaging spectrometers for Earth as well as planetary science.  We are exceptionally pleased to apply the results of these investments to support the ecological science to be pursued with the imaging spectrometers of NEON," said Robert Green, a lead for the JPL spectrometer development team. In addition to the imaging spectrometer, the AOP package includes a small footprint waveform light detection and ranging (wLiDAR) instrument and a high-resolution digital camera. The imaging spectrometer is used to create an image of the ground by showing wavelength bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. The wLiDAR sends out a laser pulse and measures the time difference between the outgoing and returning light to determine the structure of vegetation and buildings below. The digital camera provides detailed aerial views of the regional landscape. Together, these instruments will provide 3D imaging that could revolutionize the way scientists view how individual organisms across hundreds of kilometers change over time. “NEON’s Airborne Observation Platform is the key link between local measurements and continental-scale ecology, thus allowing us to clearly understand the impact of large-scale issues such as climate change on our natural resources,” said Dave Schimel, Chief Science Officer at NEON.

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