NSF and AIBS sign cooperative agreement for NEON project office

09/21/04

Arlington, Va.--The scientific community's effort to create a National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) enters a new phase today.

With a two-year, $6 million cooperative agreement from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) will set up a NEON design consortium and project office to develop a blueprint for the network and a plan for its implementation. NEON, envisioned as field and lab instrumentation deployed across the United States and integrated via cutting-edge cyberinfrastructure into a continent-wide research platform, will be the first national ecological observation system designed to answer scientific questions at regional and continental scales and to enable ecological forecasting.

"Once built, NEON will transform ecological research," said Mary Clutter, NSF assistant director for biological sciences. "It will create new collaborative environments, bringing together ecologists, engineers, and social, physical, computer and earth scientists to investigate ecological phenomena that span large geographical areas and long periods of time." NEON, Clutter believes, can also provide unique educational opportunities for students and the public. "The award to AIBS is a major step toward realizing NEON," she said.

Just as the nation's network of meteorological stations allows scientists to predict changes in the weather, NEON will make it possible for scientists to predict changes in the nation's ecosystems and their consequences, said Bruce Hayden, an ecologist at the University of Virginia and principal investigator on the project. The project is designed to involve large numbers of scientists and educators in the development of the NEON network blueprint and implementation plan. William Michener, associate director of NSF's Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network, will direct the NEON project office at AIBS headquarters in Washington, D.C. The project will be managed at AIBS by science office director Jeffrey Goldman.

"The most pressing challenges facing the nation's biosphere, like the impact of climate change on forests and agriculture, the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, and the causes and consequences of invasive species all result from complex interactions between human, natural and physical systems," said Elizabeth Blood, program director in NSF's division of biological infrastructure, which funded the award. "These systems change over time and cross all levels of biological organization. To better understand these ecosystems and forecast biological change, ecologists need a new tool to study their structure and dynamics. NEON is that tool."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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