Interested in assessing the ecological impacts of climate change? How about investigating the complex dynamics of ecological response to land use change and invasive species? What types of data would you need to perform such research at regional and continental scales? These are just some of the ambitious science questions being addressed by NEON – the National Ecological Observatory Network.
Sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation, NEON is an integrated network of 60 sites located throughout the U.S. where infrastructure is being put in place to collect a uniform array of scientific data. The hypothesis is that by providing consistent measurements and observations across the U.S., scientists will be better able to answer critical questions related to environmental change. Originally conceived in 1997, and followed by many years of planning, NEON entered its construction phase in 2012. Current plans are for the network to be fully operational in 2017, and for data from NEON to be collected for 30 years.
The 60 NEON sites encompass the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Sites were selected to represent a diverse range of vegetation communities, climate zones, land types, and land-use categories. The current list of NEON data products to be collected at each site include over 500 different entries, including both field and remote sensing observations. Items range from as detailed as genetic sequences and isotope analyses of field samples to as broad as temperature and wind speed measurements from meteorological instruments. Additionally, in what has become a welcome trend within the community, NEON data is being distributed using an open access policy.
Of particular interest to the remote sensing community is that NEON includes an Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) that will be used to collect digital photography, imaging spectroscopy data, and full-waveform LiDAR data. To accommodate the geographic distribution of NEON sites, this same suite of remote sensing instrumentation will be deployed on three different aircraft. Note that remote sensing data collection, as well as testing and validation of analysis protocols, has already begun and preliminary data is available upon request.
Given its scope, it is clear that the data and information derived from the NEON project will have a profound impact on our understanding of the natural environment and our ability to assess ecological change.
For more information on NEON: http://www.neoninc.org/