The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) has been in planning for more than a decade, with development of instruments and observatory designs being laid out for a network across the United States in distinct eco-regions. While the organization has been formulating plans for transformational science research at continental scale, the mission has only just been validated and jump-started with the award of a $434 million ten-year grant by the National Science Foundation late last month. With the funds arriving, site preparation and construction of the first observatories could take place later this year.
The NEON network includes plans for 15,000 sensors to collect 500 categories of data ranging from soil, stream, air, and weather readings. In addition to the sensor readings, scientists will collect samples, aerial imaging surveys will analyze broad land-use trends, and satellite data will provide details at the full continent scale. This new level of data collection, and integrated and networked science, will lead to whole new levels of data and understanding of ecological change. NEON’s draft scientific plan identifies climate, land use and invasive species as drivers of ecosystem change that can be studied through their impact on biodiversity, biogeochemical and hydrological cycles and the spread of infectious diseases.
With the design and plan approved and NSF funding now in place, the focus is now on construction and operation of the observatory. It is anticipated that the 20 core and 40 relocatable sites, the mobile lab, and the three airborne observation platforms, will be completed in 2016.
Read more about this new ecological environment network in this feature from Nature.
View this video below for more details on the network.