Overview of NEON Science

In an era of dramatic changes in land use and other human activities, we must understand how the biosphere – the living part of earth – is changing in response to human activities. Humans depend on a diverse set of biosphere services and products, including air, water, food, fiber, and fuel. Enhancements or disruptions of these services could alter the quality of human life in many parts of the world.

To help us understand how we can maintain our quality of life on this planet, we must develop a more holistic understanding of how biosphere services and products are interlinked with human impacts. This cannot be investigated using disconnected studies on individual sites or over short periods of observation. Further, existing monitoring programs that collect data to meet natural resource management objectives are not designed to address climate change and other new, complex environmental challenges.

NEON, the first continental-scale ecological observatory, will provide comprehensive data that will allow scientists to address these issues.

The First Continental Ecological Observatory

NEON will be the first observatory designed to detect and enable forecasting of ecological change at continental scales over multiple decades.

NEON will use distributed sensor networks, coordinated airborne observations and experiments, linked by advanced cyberinfrastructure, to collect ecological data across the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. More in-depth detail about NEON's design and strategy plans can be found in "The NEON Strategy."

NEON has partitioned the U. S. into 20 eco-climatic domains, each of which represents different regions of vegetation, landforms, climate, and ecosystem performance. In those domains, NEON will collect site-based data about climate and atmosphere, soils and streams and ponds, and a variety of organisms. Additionally, NEON will provide a wealth of regional and national-scale data from airborne observations and geographical data collected by Federal agencies and processed by NEON to be accessible and useful to the ecological research community. NEON will also manage a long-term multi-site stream experiment and provide a platform for future observations and experiments proposed by the scientific community.

The data collected and generated across NEON’s network – all day, every day, over a period of 30 years — will be synthesized into information products that can be used to describe changes in the nation’s ecosystem through space and time. It will be readily available in many formats to scientists, educators, students, decision makers and the general public.

Benefits to the Nation

The data NEON collects and provides will focus on how land use change, climate change and invasive species affect the structure and function of our ecosystems. Obtaining this kind of data over a long-term period is crucial to improving ecological forecast models. The Observatory will enable a virtual network of researchers and environmental managers to collaborate, coordinate research, and address ecological challenges at regional, national and continental scales by providing comparable information across sites and regions.

For example, such data will allow us to anticipate and forecast the effects of climate change on our ecosystems. The ability to make ecological forecasts will support new White House initiatives to proactively reduce our vulnerability and increase our resilience to ongoing climate change.