It’s like a telescope for biologists, only this observatory is pointed at Earth rather than away from it.
Officials broke ground Monday on environmental sensors and other equipment being installed at the University of Florida’s Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in Putnam County. The equipment will track climate change, the spread of invasive species and other environmental changes as part of the National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON.
“This actually measures what’s going on in the places where we live, where we play, where we raise our children, where we raise our food,” said Russ Lea, CEO of NEON Inc. “You start thinking about the other kinds of observatories, this one’s absolutely critical to the place in which we live in a continental scale.”
UF’s 9,100-acre Ordway-Swisher property is one of 20 places across the continental U.S. where NEON monitoring stations are being built. The $434 million project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will collect data on environmental changes over the next 30 years for use by scientists, policy makers and the general public.
“As climate change accelerates, there has never been a more critical time than today for understanding environmental trends, for recognizing environmental threats and for conserving natural systems,” UF President Bernie Machen said.
Equipment being built on the site includes a tower with sensors to measure carbon dioxide, temperature and other meteorological conditions. Sensors also will be put in the soil and in two lakes. Scientists on site will do research work such as collecting insects and counting birds. Planes and satellites will gather additional data.