NSF announces Dear Colleague Letter for research using NEON data

April 08, 2015

The National Science Foundation announced its first funding opportunity for utilizing NEON data and resources through a Dear Colleague Letter on April 1, 2015.

The Directorate for Biological Sciences will consider requests for funding to support (1) conferences (including symposia and workshops) for bringing together a team of researchers to coordinate plans for specific analysis or synthesis of NEON data, and (2) Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGERs) to support innovative research that leverages NEON data and/or samples/specimens.

Interested principal investigators should email a maximum three-page summary of their research ideas and planned activities to NEONresearch@nsf.gov by close of business on Friday, May 8, 2015. For more information, please review Information for Researchers and the Science Capability Assessment.

The NEON website provides a wealth of information to help researchers prepare their summaries including:

  • Information for Researchers: provides additional information to principal investigators and a point of contact at NEON to address questions and provide letters of support
  • Get Data: provides information on the various ways to access NEON data.  Including the Maps and Spatial Data page where PIs can download spatial data with the locations of NEON sites, plot, and AOP flyovers, which may be useful in a variety of ways including planning the sampling stratification for their own research. The Data Product Availability page includes a schematic showing when selected data products are available
  • Get Specimens and Samples: provides information about the specimens and samples that NEON collects, how they complement automated measurements and observations on the ground, and how to request them

For this inaugural Dear Colleague letter, NSF is particularly interested in gauging interest and ideas from the scientific community about how to use NEON. As a result, NEON employees will not participate in submissions as PIs or co-PIs. However, NEON staff are available to answer questions and provide letters of support. 

Have questions?

If you have questions about NEON field sites, collection methods, data products, infrastructure, etc. please search the Frequently Asked Questions (below) and/or contact NEON so we may direct your inquiry to the most appropriate person. Also, please note that your questions and our answers will be published on the NEON website to ensure that all information is made available to all potential proposers.

Community Questions

  1. Question: Where can I find more information about this Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) and how to apply? Answer: Please reference the Dear Colleague Letter or search through this FAQ.
  2. Question: When is the summary of my research ideas and planned activities due? Answer: Your 3-page (maximum) summary of your research ideas and planned activities should be emailed to the National Science Foundation by close of business, Friday, May 8, 2015.
  3. Question: I do not work at a US-based institution. Am I eligible to apply? Answer: Conference and EAGER proposal inquiries will be accepted from a Principal Investigator or any consortium of investigators led by a Principal Investigator at an eligible U.S. institution. You are eligible to apply as a Co-Principal Investigator or a collaborator if your Principal Investigator is at an eligible U.S. institution.
  4. Question: I am a NEON staff member. Can I participate in a proposal? Answer: NEON staff members are not allowed to participate in this call as Principal Investigators, Co-Principal Investigators or collaborators.
  5. Question: I would like to involve a NEON staff member in my proposal. Is this allowed? Answer: NEON staff members are not allowed to participate in this call as Principal Investigators, Co-Principal Investigators or collaborators.
  6. Question: Where can I get information about data that are available now or will be available within the next two years? Answer: There are several resources to help you find data that are or will be available, listed here.
  7. Question: I would like to know more about the science design and protocols used to collect the data I am interested in. I would also like to know how the data were processed. Where can I find this information? Answer: First, check the NEON Document Library. We are releasing our science designs, protocols and processing documents (Algorithm Theoretical Basis Documents, or ATBDs) in batches over the next few months. If you cannot find the answer you are looking for in the Document Library, please submit your question via email.
  8. Question: Where can I get information about organismal specimens or soil samples that are available now or will be available within the next two years? Answer: Please reference the tables in the Availability of NEON Specimens and Samples section. If you have further questions, please contact NEON via email.
  9. Question: Can my proposal include Project BudBurst data? Will datasets be available, and if so, where can I access them? Answer: Yes, Project BudBurst data will be available and can be addressed in your proposal. 
  10. Question: It looks like there is really great spatial data on vegetation for each NEON field site. Are the beetle pitfall trap locations recorded in a way that they can be tied to the spatial vegetation data? Answer: Yes, however this may require additional processing by the user or researcher. NEON collects data at 30 distributed plots per terrestrial field site: of these 30 plots, 10 will collect both beetle and plant diversity data. NEON provides GPS coordinates for the center of each distributed plot; four carabid pitfall traps are placed 20 m from the center of the plot in each cardinal direction. To determine the plant community present at the plot level, distributed plots may be connected utilizing unique identifiers for each plot.
  11. Question: Where are beetle samples housed, and how can I find them? Answer: At this time, some common and easy to identify carabids have gone or are going to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science: ownership of 2013 materials has been transferred and beetles accessioned. Find information about those specimens here or by a simple search here. Click on the Denver Museum collection and search for NEON in the locality field. Carabids collected in NEON Domains 01 (Massachusetts), 03 (Florida) and 10 (Colorado) are archived in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History: ownership has been transferred and beetles accessioned, though we unsure if they are accessible online yet. Additional collections from Domains 01-11 will also be sent to Carnegie. Carabids from Domains 12 – 20 will be sent to the University of California, Berkeley to be identified and archived or curated at the Essig Museum on campus; however, no beetles have been sent to date and we cannot provide a timeline for their availability.
  12. Question: To what extent can we utilize a specimen? Can we measure, manipulate, or even dissect them? Answer: NEON utilizes external facilities for all specimen archiving: once a specimen has been housed in an external facility, the extent to which you can utilize the specimen is determined by the facility’s policies. It is also subject to NEON's Sample Use Policy, which requires that some sample reserve be maintained; complete consumption would require NEON concurrence. 
  13. Question: What kinds of species caught in pitfall traps do you classify as by-catch? Would it be possible to have access to the by-catch species? Answer: We classify any non-carabid species as by-catch. There may be some, limited sorting of the bycatch by the archiving facilities. Currently bycatch collected in 2013 is at the Denver Museum; future samples will be sent there as well.
  14. Question: Is NEON collecting soil respiration data, and if so, what instrumentation and protocols are used and where will these data be collected? Answer: NEON will be using the gradient method to estimate soil respiration rates at each terrestrial NEON site. This will involve measuring soil CO2 concentrations at three different depths using Vaisala GMP343 sensors and coupling these data with estimates of CO2 diffusivity through the soil. Soil respiration will be measured in all five of the instrumented soil plots that are associated with the tower (i.e., within ~200 meters of the tower). However, soil respiration data is unlikely to be available in the near future. Learn more about the protocols and science designs that inform soil sensor and measurement collection methods in the Data Portal Document Library.
  15. Question: When will you begin sampling at the aquatic sites, and when will data become available on the data portal? Answer: Technicians have already started sampling at the following sites: D2 Posey Creek, D3 Suggs Lake and Barco Lake, D4 Rio Cupeyes and Rio Guilarte, D8 Mayfield Creek, D9 Prairie Lake and Prairie Pothole, D10 Arikaree River. Preliminary characterization sampling will start in the following sites this spring/summer: D3 Ichawaynochaway Creek, D5 Crampton Lake, D6 King’s Creek, D7 Walker Branch and Leconte Creek, D11 South Pond, and D13 Como Creek. Data availability on the data portal will lag behind sampling. It takes time for the external labs to process the samples, then the data must be checked for quality and the data needs to be ingested into the NEON database and made available on the portal. For much of the biological data, that process will not happen this summer, but water chemistry data should be available this summer.
  16. Question: How many soil pits have been sampled to date? Answer: We are in the process of finishing sampling at the 33rd soil pit. We dig one soil pit at each NEON terrestrial site. The pit is fairly close to the tower and chosen to be representative of the five sensor-based soil plots near the tower. Soil samples are collected by horizon down to two meters at most sites, or bedrock if shallower than two meters. Learn more about NEON soil sampling here.
  17. Question: How many sites have soil samples that are currently available in the Megapit Soil Archive? Answer: At the moment there are 14 sites where the soil samples are available upon request. All soil samples are air-dried and if they are from a mineral horizon, they are sieved (2 mm), while soils from organic horizons are sorted by hand. We are continuing to process soil samples from other sites that have already been sampled and add an average of ~one site per month to the archive. Request NEON megapit soil samples here.
  18. Question: Are requests for a few grams of soil from the Megapit Soil Archive acceptable? Answer: Yes. Please submit your requests here.
  19. Question: When does the associated soil lab analysis data become available following a soil pit? Answer: The first release of data associated with the megapit, which includes a range of common soil science lab analyses, is scheduled to be posted on the NEON Data Portal by late June 2015. Following that, additional data will be posted as it is received following a soil pit. It can take one or more years to receive all the data from a single pit.
  20. Question: What is the difference between a core site and a relocatable site? Answer: NEON core sites will operate for a minimum of 30 years and capture wildland conditions; relocatable sites may be re-deployed periodically to capture specific environmental gradients or human-triggered ecological change. Please click here for more information.
  21. Question: Does NEON have any formal documentation of site history that could be made available for a research project? Answer: In general, we do not have historical site information available for our sites, though for some of our characterization and prototype activities, we have collected information that may be of use (e.g. vegetation maps that indicate historical field boundaries). We are currently in the process of pushing our characterization and prototype data (including data and characterization reports) to our portal and hope to begin populating the domain/site pages with this information within the next 6 months.
  22. Question: Will any eddy covariance flux estimates of net ecosystem exchange (NEE) be available soon? Or just raw data streams of direct measurements? Answer: The components that are used to calculate NEE will be released before NEE itself, which is anticipated to be released before the end of 2017.
  23. Question: Are NEON microbial samples collected from locations that are similar to the megapit? Answer: We sample at four plots within the tower airshed, which should have similar vegetation characteristics, although a full comparison of soil types is not available at this time. Four additional plots are distributed throughout the site and are intended to capture a different vegetation type than within the tower airshed. We do not know how similar the soil characteristics are at this time, as those data are forthcoming.
  24. Question: What is the difference between Single Aspirated Air Temperature and Triple Aspirated Air Temperature? Answer: Single Aspirated Air Temperature (SAAT) is measured by a single platinum resistance thermometer; Triple Aspirated Air Temperature (TRAAT) is measured by a cluster of three platinum resistance thermometers. In addition, TRAAT is only measured at the top of each tower and SAAT is only measured at lower levels.
  25. Question: What frozen soils are available, from how many sites, when are they taken and at what depth are they collected? Are DNA extracts available? Answer: Currently, we have approximately 150 frozen soil samples collected for prototype studies available through the Specimen Request process. Those samples are from Domain 1 (Massachusetts), Domain 10 (Colorado), Domain 19 (Alaska) and Domain 20 (Hawaii). DNA extracts are not available at this time. Regarding future availability of samples, approximately 2,000 samples were taken in 2013 and 2014 from 13 NEON sites. They are currently being analyzed and NEON is working to have those samples available for request in 2016. Due to other construction-related activities at NEON, no soil microbial sampling is planned for 2015. However, the plan for 2016 includes sampling at ~55 sites. We will sample eight plots per site, three samples per plot, three times per year. Find additional sampling information through NEON protocols.
  26. Question: Are vegetation structure at forested sites and flux data available for estimating Net Primary Productivity (NPP) and Net Ecosystem Exchange (NEE)? Answer: No, vegetation structure data from forested sites and flux data will not be available until 2016. They are both scheduled for release by September 2016.
  27. Question: Are fine root material available from soil samples obtained at NEON core site? Answer: We do have soil samples available from the Mega-Pit Soil Archive. However, this includes little or no root material. We actively try to remove all the roots by sieving the soil through 2 mm mesh sieves when we process the mineral soils, before placing them in the archive. Fine root sample collection from the scheduled 20 core sites will not be complete until 2017. Before 2017, we will not have an archival system in place to manage soil samples and their allocation to external researchers. By the end of 2017, it is possible that this root collection will be managed by an external facility to provide this collection as a resource to the science community.
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