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US to set up eco-observatory network

US: The US validated and jump-started development of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) with the award of a USD 434 million ten-year grant by the National Science Foundation. The network will consist of 20 ‘core’ observatories representing distinct eco-regions throughout the US. These will be bolstered by temporary stations that can be relocated wherever data need to be collected. The sites will house equipment and host visiting researchers, while gathering a range of environmental data over at least three decades.

Once the entire network is up and running, some 15,000 sensors will work in concert with scientists on the ground to supply roughly 500 distinct categories of data ranging from basic weather readings to concentrations of ozone in the air and nitrogen in the soils, leaves and streams. Scientists will collect tens of thousands of samples, including soil, water, plants and small mammals. At the same time, aerial surveys will analyse broader land-use trends as well as details such as leaf chemistry and carbon stocks, and satellite data will expand coverage over the entire continent.

Conceived more than a decade ago, NEON has already spent just over USD 80 million planning the network and developing instruments. But the project, which is run by an independent body — NEON, Inc. — didn’t clear its final hurdle until July 28, when the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded it USD 434 million over the next decade, with USD 12.5 million to be spent in the current fiscal year.

David Schimel, the project’s chief science officer, based in Boulder, Colorado, said that the first data, from sensors placed on towers, submerged in streams and buried in soils, should come next year — a trickle that project members hope will become a torrent by 2016, when the project will be fully operational.

Source: Nature