The Science and Design of National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)


(music) (typing sound) I love this photo of Gothic Mountain at
Rocky Mountain Biological lab. This was taken at peak flowering of Potentilla pulcherrima in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Now, 2011 was a phenomenal rain fall year where they had very high floral abundance and very high reproduction of this Potentilla species. Now 2012 was in contrast, a record low rain fall year. In addition to that, because of the low
amount of snow fall, when the plants started to flower what we saw was that the flowers were
impacted heavily by extreme frost events because of the shift to flowering earlier in the season. 2013 is what we consider to be a relatively average year. Average flowering, average rain fall, average snow pack. The reason why I love this photo is because
it really demonstrates what we expect to happen with climate change in this area. We are seeing an advance of the phenology
in these species by about a week per decade. And so what we are expecting, is that we are going to see, rather than either the 2011 type of flowering
or the 2013 more average flowering; we’re expecting to see more of the kind of flowering events like we saw in 2012 where we aren’t only seeing very low flowering, but we are seeing general reproductive failure because of the shift in the flowering phenology to earlier
and earlier in the season — and so we are seeing the effects of these early frost events. NEON is designed to try to answer these
questions about how climate change is impacting our environment and how is that impacting
plant species, plant communities and then cascading through the food chain on a much
grander scale than just looking at one site. It’s not just looking at climate; it’s
looking at the causes of change that include land use change and invasive species. And looking at how that’s affecting all
components of the ecosystem including biodiversity, biogeochemistry, ecohydrology and infectious disease. NEON will provide data that is collected
by sensors on the tower, soil, aquatic systems, both lakes and in streams, and by making observations on the land and in water. In addition to that, we are going to be
collecting data by sensors that are located on our airborne unit that are going to fly over each site every year. By having this collocated set of data coming
from each of our sites we hope to inform these grand challenge questions. We are doing this within twenty different
domains that have been established considering different eco and climatic factors. These sites have been assigned different science themes. In some sites we are looking at climate change and at others we are looking at gradients of land use including looking at urban sites and agricultural sites we are looking at things like timber production. By utilizing this we can look at the full
suite of ecosystems that we have in the United States but also the very different kinds of land
uses and impacts that are happening to these ecosystems. We are trying to collect standardized data
across all of the different types of aquatic systems and terrestrial systems in a way that allows that data to be fully comparable. This is in contrast to the way that your
typical ecological study is done where we use methods that are optimized for one or a few sites. (music)