New NEON Resources Available
Reports of mounting ecological problems caused by climate change, invasive species and land-use changes invariably beg the question: What is the current and future state of the Earth's ecology?
Answers to this question have traditionally been inadequate because scientists have lacked a mechanism to systematically measure the long-term health of large ecosystems. But that is now changing as a new, precedent-setting, nationwide, multidisciplinary infrastructure--the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)--is starting to go online across the United States.
What NEON will do
NEON will be to ecological health what an electrocardiogram (EKG) is to heart health. Like an EKG generates snapshots of heart health by measuring heart activity from strategic locations on a patient's body, NEON will generate snapshots of ecosystem health by measuring ecological activity from strategic locations throughout the U.S.
At each NEON location, ecological variables--such as land use, diversity of plant and animal species, health of vegetation, soil conditions, and air temperature and humidity--will be captured through hundreds of unique measurements. These will be recorded with calibrated in-situ instruments, including airborne remote sensing instruments, and by trained field observational technicians. Many of these measurements have never before been collected in tandem to help identify long-term ecological trends.
Because of its standardized design, data produced by NEON will enable the scientific community to generate the first apples-to-apples comparisons of ecosystem health throughout the U.S. over multiple decades.
With a coordinated, linked and integrated structure, NEON will be a single national observatory, rather than a collection of regional observatories. It will be the world's first observatory to listen to the pulse of a continental ecosystem over multiple decades.
The timetable for NEON
Some of NEON's data collection and educational operations have already begun, and others will begin incrementally until NEON becomes fully functional in 2017. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NEON will be fully operational for some 30 years.
During NEON's lifetime, tens of thousands of researchers, students of all levels, educators, resource managers, decision-makers, policy experts, government organizations and members of the public will use its resources.
NEON's recent accomplishments include an ongoing, precedent-setting study of the ecological impacts of the huge High Park Wildfire of Colorado in 2012, which is being jointly conducted with Colorado State University. In addition, NEON's Project BudBurst--a nationwide citizen science group--has, since 2010, been collecting information on plants that may help scientists identify some impacts of climate change.
New NEON resources
More information about NEON is provided in the following multimedia resources:
- A quick overview video entitled, "NEON at a Glance."
- An episode of Science Nation--a weekly series of short, mini documentaries on NSF-funded research--devoted to NEON.
- A brochure titled National Ecological Observatory Network: Revolutionizing Ecological Research.
- A webcast on NEON with three experts: 1) Elizabeth Blood, NSF's program director for NEON; 2) Dave Tazik, NEON's director of biology; and 3) Tom Kampe, NEON's assistant director for remote sensing.