Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and proudly operated by Battelle, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) program provides open, continental-scale data across the United States that characterize and quantify complex, rapidly changing ecological processes. The Observatory’s comprehensive design supports greater understanding of ecological change and enables forecasting of future ecological conditions. NEON collects and processes data from field sites located across the continental U.S., Puerto Rico, and Hawaii over a 30-year timeframe. NEON provides free and open data that characterize plants, animals, soil, nutrients, freshwater, and the atmosphere. These data may be combined with external datasets or data collected by individual researchers to support the study of continental-scale ecological change.
Ecological relevance: why NEON, why now?
Natural systems are comprised of complex processes occurring over a range of scales, from the intricate composition of individual living cells to the dynamic interactions of the global ecosystem. The Earth and its ecological processes are changing at unprecedented rates due to human activity; the effects of these changes are uncertain. To address this uncertainty, the science, education, computing, and engineering communities provided input to NEON’s design, with the shared goal of creating a long-term ecological observatory that collects and provides a diverse suite of comparable and consistent ecological data at multiple spatial and temporal scales.
Addressing challenges in environmental science
The Observatory is designed to measure the drivers of change and the ecological responses to change in the areas of biodiversity, biogeochemistry, ecohydrology, and infectious disease. The foundation of the NEON Observatory is to:
- Observe the causes and consequences of environmental change to establish links between ecological cause and effect;
- Detect and quantify ecological responses to and interactions between climate, land use, and biological invasions, which unfold over decades;
- Provide information on biodiversity, biogeochemistry, ecohydrology, infectious diseases, biological invasion, land use change, and climate change to scientists, educators, students, the general public, and governmental and non-governmental decision makers
- Address ecological processes at the continental scale and the integration of local behavior to the United States, and observe transport processes that couple ecosystems across continental scales;
- Develop infrastructure to support community driven experiments that accelerate changes toward anticipated future conditions; and
- Provide infrastructure and resources to scientific and educational communities to support the development or deployment of additional sensors, measurements, experiments, and learning opportunities.
Free and Publicly Accessible Resources
NEON data and resources are freely available to enable users to tackle scientific questions at scales not accessible to previous generations of ecologists. The observatory includes 81 field sites (47 terrestrial and 34 aquatic) located in different ecosystems across the United States (including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico). Data collection methods are standardized across sites and include automated instrument measurements, observational field sampling and airborne remote sensing surveys. Field sites are strategically selected to represent different regions of vegetation, landforms, climate, and ecosystem performance. The NEON data catalog includes over 180 data products.
NEON's primary purpose is to provide:
- Continental-scale environmental data and archival samples
- Infrastructure for ecological research studies
- Educational tools to work with large data
Status of the NEON Program
The planning and design of the NEON program was completed in early 2012. Construction of the Observatory and field sites began soon after in Spring 2012. NEON went into full operations in 2019 providing over 180 data products. The observatory also archives over 100,000 biological, genomic, and geological samples annually. Archived samples are available upon request and curated by the NEON Biorepository at Arizona State University.
NEON is part of a bold effort to:
- Understand and forecast continental-scale environmental change
- Inform natural resource decisions
- Engage the next generation of scientists