July’s NEON Spotlight highlights three new stories demonstrating how scientists are leveraging NEON data in their efforts to expand the capabilities of ecological science. This month, we are spotlighting how NEON plays a crucial role in validating NASA technology, inspiring phenocam research developments, and studying the impact climate change has on our fungi communities. NEON data continue to be instrumental in advancing our comprehension of the natural world, fueling public knowledge, and sharpening our ability to address pressing environmental challenges.
This Month’s Spotlight
The latest news from NEON includes:
- NASA Satellite Simulator for Plant Structural Traits Validated by NEON
NASA researchers used NEON airborne data to evaluate an ICESat-2 simulator's effectiveness in predicting and simulating plant structural traits based on measurements from NASA’s ICESat-2 lidar satellite. They compared the simulated ICESat-2 measurements with Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) data from NEON to assess how accurately the satellite captured and represented plant structure. The inclusion of NEON's data played a crucial role in this evaluation, helping to improve our understanding of forest ecosystems. By analyzing the simulated and observed ICESat-2 measurements, researchers found close similarities in plant characteristics such as canopy height, canopy cover, and plant area volume density, suggesting that ICESat-2 is sensitive to these important plant traits. The research demonstrates the potential of ICESat-2 and NEON data in mapping and monitoring plant structural attributes, enabling better assessments of forest health and ecosystem dynamics.
- NEON Soil Samples Used in Climate Change Study for Fungal Communities
In this study, researchers used NEON soil samples to examine the effects of climate change on soil fungi in North America. By analyzing the genetic information of thousands of fungal species, they developed models to predict fungal distribution based on climate and soil data. The results show that temperature is a key factor influencing fungal patterns, with cold and dry conditions affecting soil fungi more than warm and wet conditions. The researchers also introduce a new proposed measure, called the Sørensen climate sensitivity index, to assess fungal response to climate changes. The collaboration with NEON contributes to a better understanding of the impact of climate change on soil fungi in North America.
- NEON Inspires New Phenocam at Furman University
Inspired by NEON, a student has installed a phenocam at Furman University that captures seasonal changes in tree canopy development, or phenology. Emily Gardella, an Earth and environmental sciences major, introduced the phenocam as part of her independent study accessing NEON data. Furman now joins just one other South Carolina university in the global PhenoCam Network, which encompasses approximately 700 sites worldwide and partners with NEON. This new compact phenocam continuously captures images every half hour throughout the year, transmitting the data to the network's server. Gardella utilized this valuable data to investigate landscape resilience after natural disasters, such as wildfires, underscoring the importance of monitoring climate variations and their future impacts. By actively participating in the PhenoCam Network, the university not only contributes to climate change research but also gains insights into its own phenology and ecological changes over time.
Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by Battelle, NEON is a continental-scale ecological observatory network dedicated to providing high-quality, consistently generated, standardized data that are free and available to all users. By enabling scientists, researchers, and students to address critical questions and understand ecosystem changes over time, the NEON program allows the ecological community to tackle questions and problems at a scale that was not possible before.