NEON Airborne Takes Flight for 2018 Season

March 19, 2018

If you happen to be at a NEON field site during the peak of the growing season this year, look up. There’s a chance you’ll see one of the NEON Airborne Observation Platforms (AOPs) flying overhead.

At each terrestrial site a minimum of 100 km2 will be surveyed over an area encompassing the NEON flux tower airsheds and distributed long-term observational sampling plots, representative vegetation types, and watershed boundaries for both terrestrial and aquatics sites. To minimize signal uncertainty due to plant phenology and to ensure spatial and temporal consistency in data products across multiple years, all terrestrial sites are scheduled to be flown during mean peak greenness, defined as the range of dates where MODIS NDVI is within 90% of the site maximum. To minimize atmospheric effects, data acquisition occurs at less than 10% cloud cover.

Where will we fly this year?

The 2018 flight campaign will run from March to October, covering 13 NEON domains and including 36 terrestrial sites and 14 aquatic sites using two payloads (Payloads 2 and 3 – see Tables 1-2 and Figures 1-2). The remote sensing instruments – consisting of an imaging spectrometer, a waveform light detection and ranging (LIDAR) instrument and a high-resolution digital camera – are installed into a DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft flying at a nominal altitude of 1000 m above ground level (AGL) at a speed of 100 knots. The flight parameters enable meter-scale spectroscopy, decimeter-scale photography, and ~4 points-per-meter discreet and waveform lidar measurements at a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio to retrieve vegetation vertical structure and biogeochemical properties from measured reflectance spectra. This year’s data collection schedule will in an inaugural survey of the Guanica (GUAN) field site in Puerto Rico. The 2018 data collection season starts in March with the first flight over the San Joaquin Experimental Range (SJER) in California (D17: Pacific Southwest). The planes will follow peak greenness cycles across Alaska, the lower 48 states and Puerto Rico, with the final run taking place in Florida in September. Under the current plan, data will be collected from sites in the continental U.S. and Alaska three years out of every four, and in Puerto Rico and Hawaii every five years. 

If you are interested in tracking the 2018 season, daily flight reports can be found here. You can also sign up to receive daily email updates by NEON domain. Please note, you will only receive emails during the time period the AOP is in the domain you have signed up to follow. See below for the planned schedules of the two AOPs that will be flying this year.

Table 1: 2018 Flight Campaign Schedule – Payload 3

Domain

Site (Terrestrial / Aquatic)

Survey Area (Km2)

Target Survey Dates

D17

San Joaquin Ecological Range

100

Mar 31 – Apr 4

D11

LBJ Grasslands

196

Apr 17 – Apr 25

D11

Klemme Range Research Station

100

Apr 17 – Apr 25

D08

Talladega National Forest / Mayfield Creek

122

Apr 27 – May 13

D08

Lenoir Landing / Lower Tombigbee River

100

Apr 27 – May 13

D08

Dead Lake / Black Warrior River

108

Apr 27 – May 13

D07

Oak Ridge National Laboratory / Walker Branch

181

May 19 – Jun 23

D07

Great Smoky Mountains National Park / LeConte Creek

374

May 19 – Jun 23

D07

Mountain Lake Biological Station

100

May 19 – Jun 23

D12

Yellowstone Northern Range / Blacktail Deer Creek

205

Jun 28 – Jul 6

D16

Wind River Experimental Forest / Martha Creek

130

Jul 8 – Jul 24

D16

Abby Road

100

Jul 8 – Jul 24

D14

Santa Rita Ecological Range

368

Aug 18– Aug 30

D14

Jornada

245

Aug 18– Aug 30

Table 2: 2018 Flight Campaign Schedule – Payload 2

Domain

Site (Terrestrial / Aquatic)

Survey Area (Km2)

Target Survey Dates

D04

Guanica Forest

100

May 8 – May 24

D04

Lajas Experimental Station (we will be attempting Rio Cupeyes and Rio Guilarte as well)

100

May 8 – May 24

D06

Konza Prairie Biological Station / Konza Prairie Biological Station (Agricultural) / Kings Creek

149

May 30 – Jun 7

D06

The University of Kansas Field Station

100

May 30 – Jun 7

D17

Soaproot Saddle / Upper Big Creek

100

Jun 16 – Jun 26

D17

Teakettle / Teakettle Creek

160

Jun 16 – Jun 26

D18

Toolik

581

Jul 3 – Jul 25

D18

Barrow

160

Jul 3 – Jul 25

D19

Caribou-Poker Flats / Caribou Creek

192

Jul 27 – Aug 19

D19

Delta Junction

185

Jul 27 – Aug 19

D19

Healy

112

Jul 27 – Aug 19

D01

Harvard Forest

234

Aug 30 – Sep 12

D01

Bartlett Experimental Forest

100

Aug 30 – Sep 12

D03

Ordway-Swisher Biological Station / Suggs Lake / Barco Lake

167

Sep 15 – Oct 4

D03

Disney Wilderness Preserve

138

Sep 15 – Oct 4

D03

Jones Ecological Research Center

230

Sep 15 – Oct 4

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can the AOP fly additional areas?

Due to the intensive nature of the NEON Flight Campaigns, we are unable to include additional flight areas to the existing NEON observatory collection plan. However, an additional payload is available to support Principal Investigator (PI)-led science flights via the NEON Assignable Assets program.

What remote sensing data are collected?

Measurements taken from the AOPs include a range of physical, biological and biochemical data available both as flightlines and mosaics, including:

  • Topography (elevation, slope and aspect)
  • Canopy chemistry (lignin, nitrogen, water content, xanthophyll cycle)
  • Ecosystem structure (canopy height and Leaf Area Index (LAI)
  • Total biomass maps and vegetation indices
  • High-resolution orthorectified camera imagery

Why does the NEON project collect airborne remote sensing data?

The NEON airborne remote sensing system fills a critical hole in ecological data collection. Standardized, regular airborne data collection over the NEON field sites will allow scientists to monitor changes in vegetation patterns and canopy chemistry on a continental scale over an extended time period. These data will provide new insights into how invasive species are spreading over time and how changes in climate and land use impact forest health and their ability to sequester carbon.

Collection of AOP data is synchronized with data collected on the ground at each site. This allows scientists to develop a more comprehensive picture of how different observations scale and how measurements taken from airborne remote sensing instruments correlate with observations made on the ground.

NEON remote sensing data, along with tower sensors, soil sensors and observational field sampling, are freely available on the NEON data portal.

Are researchers using AOP data yet?

The data are already being used by scientists for many different projects. For example, a team led by Dr. Phil Townsend, an ecologist out of the University of Wisconsin, is using the data to build a spectral library of vegetation types that links physical and biochemical traits to spectral data. This will enable scientists to classify and map plant species using remote sensing data. At the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), Dr. Jess Parker, a forest ecologist, plans to incorporate AOP data into his studies of tree growth and the exchange of carbon, radiation and moisture between forests and the atmosphere. In addition, there have been several educational projects using NEON data including a late-2017 project led by Ethan White.

The NEON remote sensing team is working closely with the science community to optimize data collection for the needs of researchers. Two NEON Technical Working Groups (TWGs) have been formed to guide further data collection efforts, one on airborne sampling design and one on LiDAR. These advisory groups, along with additional discussions with researchers using NEON remote sensing data, will help refine data collection protocols and guide future decisions for expanded data collection or new instrumentation.

Learn more about NEON airborne remote sensing.

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