Hopefully they will uncover some important cause-and-effect relationships.
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other early Americans kept meticulous records of temperature, precipitation and barometric pressure. They often compared notes with each other, looking for long-term trends and relationships. Jefferson even proposed that every county seat have a weather station. He was concerned about the effects of climate change on farming.
By the 1870s, the United States began building a network of weather stations across the country to better predict the weather and to understand the relationships between conditions in different areas. This eventually led to our daily weather forecasts, which can be relied upon for agriculture, transportation, commerce and everyday safety.
Jefferson also suggested conducting biological surveys, which have happened too, but sometimes haphazardly, with scientists in different locations often working in isolation on similar problems.
That may be about to change.
Bruce Hayden, U.Va. professor of environmental sciences, has been chosen by the National Science Foundation to head a national team of scientists in planning a multimillion-dollar National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The project will consist of numerous research stations across the continent, from the arctic to the tropics, all linked by state-of–the-art communications and data management equipment.
The concept for NEON is driven by the understanding that most systems in nature, such as watersheds or grasslands, share common characteristics and that all systems are interrelated and ultimately co-dependent. By setting up observatories around the continent — each conducting similar observations and studies and sharing data throughout a long period of time — patterns and trends will begin to emerge, enlightening scientists’ understanding of the various ecosystems and the global environment. Hayden and his colleagues hope to design a network that will allow scientists to more fully understand the effects of human activity on landscapes and how nature responds to these changes. The long-term goal of NEON is prediction of the future states of ecological systems.
Some of the big areas that will be investigated include climate change, patterns of land use, invasive species and the spread of infectious disease.