Battelle scientists are in the midst of the three-decade scientific mapping effort that became fully operational this year. The company showed off the tools of the trade Tuesday at the Ohio State University Airport.
The National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, relies in part on low flying planes equipped with an array of specialized cameras and sensors.
Flight operations manager Nick Marusich says in addition to a high definition camera, the plane has LIDAR—a laser based system similar to RADAR—and a hyper spectrometer.
“And so those three combined, the laser will give us a lot of our ground returns so we can figure out what the terrain is, but then also will return back on dense foliage, tree limbs, trunks,” Marusich says. “The camera gives you a little bit better representation of what the visual aspect of it is, and the big scientific instrument that we do have is that hyperspectral imager. And that will actually give you the plant health.”
While the LIDAR system offers an image of the terrain’s structure, the hyperspectral information provides information about its chemical makeup.
Courtney Meier, a plant ecologist, says marrying aerial data with information collected on the ground will help build forecasts for events like flooding or drought.
“And how is that going to affect the plant community? Is it going to be resilient or is it going to pushed into a new stable state that we’ve never seen before? Those are the kinds of things that I think people are really interested in, and that these data will go a long way towards helping address,” Meier says.
The program, funded through the National Science Foundation, splits the country into 20 domains that represent different climate types. Researchers collect data from 81 different sites through field work, stationary towers and aerial observation.