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C H A P T E R O N E The National Ecological Observatory ATefwork This chapter describes the original concept of the National Ecological Observatory Network as envisioned by the National Science Foundation. F?~ndingirom the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account and the objectives of this report are also presented. The discipline of ecology has made great strides in the last 50 years. The field has moved from early studies of individual plant and animal species and their interactions to such work as exploring the effects of interactions among multiple hosts and vectors on the dynamics of emerging diseases and exploring the effects of exotic species, climate change, loss of biodiversity, and other components of environmental change on ecosystem structure and functioning. Given the recent recognition that environmental changes are occurring on regional to continental and global scales, geographic extent and time scales of ecologi- cal research are now necessarily expanding. Such efforts as the National Science Foundation (NSF) L.ong-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program are allowing investigation of individual ecosystems and their component organisms and processes over long periods. L.TER focuses on site-specific ecological research but major advances in the understanding of ecological systems and environmental change wiD require research that is substantially expanded to encompass regional 15

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NEON: ADDRESSING THE NATION'S ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES and continental scales. New knowledge and technology from molecular biology and genetics now allow study of organisms (such as bacterial and viral pathogens and soil bacteria and fungi) and processes (such as rapid evolution of disease virulence when emerging diseases switch host species) that are central components of environmental change. During the last decade, ecologists have increasingly recognized the need for their disci- pline to greatly expand the spatial scope of its research (NSB 2000), to focus on major environmental problems (Lubchenco et al. 1991, Vitousek 1994, NRC 2001), and to develop an understanding deep enough to allow predictions of how ecological processes would be affected by alternative policies and actions (Clark et al. 2001~. In response to those needs and with advice from six workshops, NSF developed the concept of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). THE NATIONAL ECOLOGICAL OBSERVATORY NETWORK AS ENVISIONED BY THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION The vision of NEON as presented to the committee by NSF personnel was best summarized in two statements: "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" (NSF 2004 budget request to Congress, ) and "NEON will be focused around a very broadly based, general research question what is the pace and nature of biological change? Individual observatories would have a broadly defined observatory-specific theme that would be consistent with this overarching NEON question" (NSF 2000c). NSF outlined these objectives of NEON () To provide a state-of-the-art national facility for scientists and engineers to conduct cutting edge research spanning all levels of biologi- 16

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The National Ecological Observatory Network cal organization from molecular genetics to whole ecosystem studies and across scales ranging from seconds to geological time and from microns to kilometers. . To interconnect the geographically distributed parts of the facility into one virtual installation via communication networks so that members of the field biology research community can access the facility remotely. . To facilitate predictive modeling of biological systems via data sharing and synthesis efforts by users of the facility. NEON would provide a national network of infrastructure that could be used by a large number of biological, physical, and social . . , , .. . . .- ,~ . - . scientists to achieve a getter understanding ot our nat1on-s ecosystems. The information obtained through NEON would help local, state, and federal policy-makers to make informed decisions. Furthermore, NEON information and facilities can serve as tools for K-12 and college education. NEON has no parallel in current research for environmental biology in the United States. The infrastructure of NEON would uniquely allow research on the geographic scale demanded by current environmental problems. Through the network of facilities built to conduct detailed ecological experiments and observations related to major environmental issues, the biological effects of alternative environmental actions and policies could be forecasted and evaluated. Design of NEON NSF envisions NEON as a network of observatories, each of which is itself a network of field sites in a region (Figure 1-1~. Each regional observatory will comprise a "core site" that is linked to a series of inter- connected "satellite sites" through high-speed Internet. The sites in each observatory will collectively provide the necessary breadth and depth of field facilities, research infrastructure, and analytical capability for comprehensive state-of-the-art research in field biology. 17

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NEON: ADDRESSING THE NATION'S ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES FIGURE1-1 Example oftossible NEON observatory, showir~giartrzers, sites, arid facilities potentially linked toform a regiorzalfootprir~t. SOURCE: NSF2002d. The core sites wiD be heavily instrumented and intensive, specialized research infrastructure wiD be deployed to maximize the capability of data collection, processing, and analysis. Satellite sites wiD contain various amounts of field instrumentation and thus have different degrees of research capabilities. The core and satellite sites will collectively cover an array of ecotypes within a region. The sites could consist of existing biological field stations, L.TER sites, marine laboratories, university facilities, or federal, state, or local agency research facilities. The aims of the regional networks of research sites are to leverage existing infra- structure and to encourage and facilitate partnerships among government agencies, academic institutions, and others. Although exact locations of the observatories wiD be selected by open competition through peer 18

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The National Ecological Observatory Network review, the complete NEON network is envisioned as encompassing all the major blames with replicated study sites within and across regions. Coordination of NEON Because coordination of research efforts and standardization of methods and data would be keys to the success of a network like NEON, NSF proposes a NEON coordinating unit to manage the integration of the observatories. The NEON coordinating unit would develop and implement plans for core equipment, core data measurements, data quality and control standards, information-management standards and practices, and data-accessibility policies. In addition, the unit would integrate NEON activities with each other and with existing federal. a state, and local programs and would coordinate public outreach activities. Because NSF suggests that NEON activities be integrated with existing federal, state and local programs, the American Institute of Biological Sciences is developing a database of current federal and state field-based ecological programs with an eye to facilitating the establish- ment of connections between academic researchers and existing govern- ment programs. The database used by the Heinz Center for its report The State of the Nation's Ecosystems: Measuring the Lands, Waters, and Living Resources of the United States would also be useful in that regard. MAJOR RESEARCH EQUIPMENT AND FACILITIES CONSTRUCTION ACCOUNT In F'Y 2003, NSF requested that Congress allocate $12 million to the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account to initiate construction of the first two NEON observatories (~. That was the first time that NSF had sought congressional allocation of MREFC funds in support of biological research. Another $12 million from the MREFC account was requested in F`Y 2004 to continue construction of the two observatories. In addition, NSF requested congressional approval of 19

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NEON: ADDRESSING THE NATION'S ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES $6.0 million in F'Y 2004 from the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account to support operation and management of the first two NEON sites. To date, Congress has not approved any of the requests for NEON funding but rather has denied them "without prejudice." The MREFC account is a separate line item in the NSF budget that provides NSF with an agency-wide mechanism to allow directorates to propose and undertake large-facility projects costing tens to hundreds of millions of doDars. MREFC funds support acquisition and construction not only of single-purpose large facilities and large-infrastructure projects, but also of national networks that affect research communities. The R&RA account supports construction of less-expensive facilities and other activities, such as planning, design, development, operation, and maintenance (NSF 2002e). Examples of single-purpose large facilities and large infrastructure that have been supported through MREFC funds are the Atacama Large Millimeter Array the world's largest and most powerful radio telescope operating at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths; the High Perfor- mance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research, a research aircraft with altitude, range, and endurance capabilities that would enable investigators to perform critical earth system research, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, two sites that consist of L-shaped interferometers designed to detect gravitational waves. MREFC funds have also been used to fund network projects like NEON. For example, EarthScope is a network of multipurpose geo- physical instruments and observatories that substantially expand canabili- ~ 1 1 ties to observe the geophysical structure and deformation of North America. According to NSF guidelines, the usual life cycle of an MREFC project can be described in five stages: concept, development, implemen- tation, operation and maintenance, and renewal or termination (NSF 2002e). During the concept stage, the scientific community defines the need for the facility and infrastructure to make progress in a particular discipline. The need for the project must be articulated in the context of existing or planned resources in the discipline, opportunities that would 0 1 20

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The National Ecological Observatory Network be forgone if the project were not undertaken, and its effect on the balance and concentration of research and education in the discipline. The project must be wed supported by relevant scientific and education communities, have potential beneficial effect on education and training, exploit potential partnerships fully, and be scaled and operated to match the stated research and education goals and objectives. If the project meets those criteria, its concept wiD be developed through workshops or study committees. The potential for partnerships should be fully and actively explored in the planning process so that NSF and partner agencies can establish their mutual interests and potential cost-sharing. The conceptual plan should include design, cost, schedule and perfor- mance goals and a vision of the development, implementation, and operation and maintenance of the facility and infrastructure. If the plan is approved by the assistant director/office head at NSF, the project can proceed to the development stage and will be included in the running list of MREFC projects that are submitted for consideration by Congress. PROCESS AND PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY To evaluate the suitability of NEON to fulfill this role, NSF asked the National Research Council to convene a committee to deliberate on which ecological and environmental issues can be addressed only on a regional or continental scale and whether NEON would be the optimal network of infrastructure to address them (see Appendix A for committee membership). The committee was charged to answer these questions: . What are the important issues in ecology and environmental biolo~v that can only be addressed on a regional or continental scale? OF Are any of these issues of national concern? . Is a national network of field and laboratory research infra- structure (e.g., environmental sensor arrays, remotely operated gas and ion analyzers, biodiversity monitoring instrumentation) needed to address these questions? . Will NEON, as conceptualized in the series of six community 21

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NEON: ADDRESSING THE NATION'S ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES workshops, be able to provide infrastructure and logistical sunnort to 0 1 1 address ecological and environmental questions of national concern? What impact will NEON have on the scientific community and the next generation of scientists? To gather input for its study, the committee hosted a public work- shop on June 9, 2003 (see Appendix B for workshop agenda). Represen- tatives of the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences were invited to present NSF's vision for NEON and to address queries about NEON from the committee and the audience. Various relevant government agencies and professional organizations were also invited to be repre- sented at the workshop. In addition to the workshop, the National Research Council hosted a Web forum from June 2 to 17, 2003, during which the broad scientific community was invited to post comments and views on NEON. The committee used input gathered from the work- shop and Web forum, printed documents on NEON, and its members' own expertise and experience in its deliberations. 22