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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 17:21 EDT

NSF Awards Construction Funding to National Ecological Observatory Network

August 1, 2011

Long-awaited, continent-wide network of environmental observing sites gets off the ground

Scientists, policy-makers and others will soon have access to information critical to understanding the effects of environmental change across the North American continent, through the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

NSF has funded construction of the $434 million observatory with $12.5 million in fiscal year 2011 funds. The award highlights more than a decade of planning.

With a construction start in fiscal year 2011, NEON will detect the signals of environmental change as soon as fiscal year 2013.

NEON plans to build observing nodes in 24 states across the U.S., using cutting-edge technology that will gather and synthesize continental-scale data over 30 years on the effects of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species on natural resources and biodiversity.

“The biosphere is one of the planet’s most complex systems, with countless interactions with Earth’s physical systems,” says Joann Roskoski, NSF Acting Assistant Director for Biological Sciences.

“The biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere are all linked,” Roskoski says. “But our limited understanding of the biosphere doesn’t match our increasingly sophisticated understanding of Earth’s physical systems.”

Ecologists have long called for a national ecological research and observation capability to understand the biosphere at human scales, and to address the complex phenomena driving ecological change in real-time.

“NEON will address this knowledge gap and transform our understanding of the biosphere,” says Roskoski. “It will be the first experimental facility to collect consistent and standardized biological measurements nationwide in real-time.”

“It’s critical to begin and complete the NEON project as soon as possible,” says NEON Chief Science Officer Dave Schimel. “Our living world is changing rapidly, and NEON’s early observations will provide the continental baseline we need to understand and forecast the likely environmental changes we could see over the coming decades.”

The network consists of field and laboratory infrastructure distributed across the country and networked via cybertechnology. Together, it forms an integrated “research platform.”

“The hard work and dedication of the NEON team have been the key to bringing the observatory to life,” says Tony Beasley, NEON’s Chief Operations Officer. “This is an outstanding outcome for the field of ecology.”

NEON will provide the infrastructure to enable basic biological and ecological research, with scientists developing and using the latest technologies and sensors.

“NEON will be the first research platform, and the only national experimental facility, designed for basic scientific research on continental-scale questions about environmental change,” says Elizabeth Blood, NSF program director for NEON.

When full science operations begin in 2017, “NEON will be the first fully-integrated in situ, airborne, and satellite experimental sensing system in the U.S.,” says Blood.

Sums up Roskoski, “NEON is the next generation of environmental observation.”

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