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National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)

Project Description: NEON will be a continental scale research instrument consisting of geographically distributed observatories, networked via state-of-the-art communications. Scientists and engineers will conduct research spanning all levels of biological organization from molecules to whole systems, across scales ranging from seconds to geological time, and from microns to kilometers. Each NEON observatory will include cutting-edge instrumentation, site-based experimental infrastructure, natural history archive facilities and/or computational, analytical and modeling capabilities. In addition, the NEON observatories will be linked via a cutting-edge computational network. The observatories will focus on: deploying field instrumentation; gathering environmental data from field-based arrays; collecting data simultaneously from geographically distributed arrays; integrating data across diverse types of databases; and establishing an informatics infrastructure. The observatories will also be used to optimize the functionality of a networked, multiscale, integrated infrastructure that will comprise a fully realized NEON.

Principal Scientific Goals: Collectively, the network of observatories will allow comprehensive, continental-scale experiments on ecological systems and will represent a virtual laboratory for research to obtain a predictive understanding of the environment. Important ecological questions confronting the U.S. will be addressed using NEON. Examples of research questions that could be addressed by NEON include: Will northern snakehead fish spread across the U.S. and harm sport fish populations? Can the spread of infectious agents like West Nile or Hanta virus be monitored and predicted? Do western wildfires affect water quality in the central or eastern U.S.?

Principal Education Goals: Undergraduates and graduate students will be trained in the conduct of large-scale and long-term ecological research. K-12 students and teachers will also be involved in NEON projects. The research will develop the knowledge to inform policy and to improve the health of U.S. ecosystems.

Partnerships and Connections to Industry: While there are no explicit partnerships planned at this time, potential federal partners have expressed interest in NEON, such as National Parks, National Forests, Marine Sanctuaries and USDA Agricultural Research Sites. Private foundations, such as the Santa Fe Institute, the Turner Foundation, NatureServe, The Nature Conservancy, and other countries have expressed an interest in NEON but no cost-sharing plans have been initiated. NEON-generated information will be employed by natural resource industries, such as forestry and fisheries, to plan programs and design management strategies.

Management and Oversight: Oversight of NEON is provided through the Biological Infrastructure Subactivity in the Biological Sciences Activity. Each observatory will be selected via a merit-review process resulting in a competitively awarded cooperative agreement. One NSF program director will be dedicated to managing the NEON activity. An Integrated Project Advisory Team, including representatives from the Office of General Counsel and the Office of Budget, Finance and Award Management, will be established to assist with management of the project.

Current Project Status: Initial workshops developed the scientific potential, technological needs, and management structure for NEON. Additional workshops focused on computer networking and information technology. In FY 2003, funds were requested to initiate construction of two observatories. Major first-year milestones included competitions for observatories, and starting development of system architecture for the flow, integration and networking of data, communications and materials across NEON.

Major milestones for NEON are listed below.

FY 2003 Milestones:
Program Announcement for establishment of two (2) observatories; and
Competition for management - NEON Coordinating Unit (NCU).

FY 2004 Milestones:
Initiate construction of experimental, archival and analytical core facilities for first two NEON observatories;
Procure and install analytical instrumentation and research equipment;
Start development of system architecture for the flow, integration and networking of data, communications and materials across the fully operational NEON;
Establish NEON Coordinating Unit (NCU); and
Complete development and begin testing of system architecture for data, communication, and materials flow across NEON.

FY 2005 Milestones:
Finish construction of core facilities for the first two observatories (2);
Begin testing and begin implementation of networking and integration interfaces;
NCU begins to schedule time and allocates resources to user community;
Evaluation and refinement of NEON model sites;
Finalize Strategic Plan for Entire Network of sites; and
Program Announcement for establishment of additional sites.

FY 2006-08 Milestones:
Begin site preparation for construction of additional sites;
Continue implementation of networking and integration interfaces across the fully operational NEON sites;
Release Program Announcement to solicit proposals for research at NEON sites;
Procure and install analytical instrumentation and research equipment;
Complete construction of core facilities; and
Beta test core facilities.

 

Funding Profile: In FY 2003, NSF requested $12.0 million to establish two NEON observatories. In FY 2004, NSF is requesting $12.0 million to continue construction of the first two observatories. FY 2006-08 implementation funding will be contingent upon the outcome of the feasibility study of the NEON project and the successful review of the prototype NEON sites.

MREFC Appropriations for NEON
(Dollars in Millions)

FY 2003

Request

FY 2004

Request

 

FY 2005

 

FY 2006

 

FY 2007

 

FY 2008

 

Total

$12.00
$12.00
$16.00
$20.00
$20.00
$20.00
$100.00


NEON Funding Profile
(Dollars in Millions)
 

Concept/

Development

Implementation

Operations &

Maintenance

Totals

Grand

Totals

R&RA
MREFC
R&RA
MREFC
R&RA
MREFC
R&RA
MREFC

FY 1996 &

Earlier

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
FY 1997
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
FY 1998
0.01
 
 
 
 
 
$0.01
 
$0.01
FY 1999
0.03
 
 
 
 
 
$0.03
 
$0.03
FY 2000
0.17
 
 
 
 
 
$0.17
 
$0.17
FY 2001
0.10
 
 
 
 
 
$0.10
 
$0.10
FY 2002
1.00
 
 
 
 
 
$1.00
 
$1.00
FY 2003 Req
 
 
 
12.00
3.00
 
$3.00
$12.00
$15.00
FY 2004 Req
 
 
 
12.00
6.00
 
$6.00
$12.00
$18.00
FY 2005 Est
 
 
 
16.00
6.00
 
$6.00
$16.00
$22.00
FY 2006 Est¹
 
 
 
20.00
9.00
 
$9.00
$20.00
$29.00
FY 2007 Est¹
 
 
 
20.00
12.00
 
$12.00
$20.00
$32.00
FY 2008 Est¹
 
 
 
20.00
15.00
 
$15.00
$20.00
$35.00

Subtotal,

R&RA

$1.31
 
 
 
$51.00
 
$52.31
 
 

Subtotal,

MREFC

 
 
 
$100.00
 
 
 
$100.00
 
Total, Each Phase
$1.31
$100.00
$51.00
$152.31
NOTE: A steady state of about $3.0 million per year in operations support per site is expected to occur on or about FY 2025. The expected operational lifespan of this project is 30 years, after construction of each site is completed.
¹FY 2006-08 implementation funding will be contingent upon the outcome of the feasibility study of the NEON project and the successful review of the prototype NEON sites.

Information pertaining to the data in the table is provided below.

  • Concept/Development: In FY2002 workshops were funded to specifically address the information technology needs, instrument array design and development, and data and information management architectures. In FY 2003, NSF will issue a call for proposals to establish two prototype NEON observatories. In FY 2004, the first two sites will begin construction.

  • Implementation: Total construction costs for each site will be $20.0 million. NSF will continually evaluate the success of NEON and together with input from the community develop a strategic plan for the management of the NEON sites.

  • Operations and Maintenance: NSF is requesting $6.0 million in FY 2004 through the R&RA account to support operation and management of the initial two sites. Initial operations will commence as construction is underway. It is anticipated that NSF will gradually increase funding to support the operations of these sites for the first few years as the network is established.
Graph of NEON Funding Through FY 2008, By Phase



Future Science Support:
Along with direct operations and maintenance support for NEON, NSF will support research performed at the facility through ongoing research and education programs. The annual support for such activities once the facility reaches full operations is estimated to be about $12.0 million.

It is estimated that 1,400 field biologists will use NEON annually. A larger number of scientists, students, resource managers and decision makers will make use of NEON data, both directly and indirectly, through the network capabilities and data distribution and sharing technologies via the network and the internet.