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Environment — Giant outdoor lab

With the recent completion of a 40-meter observation tower in the nearby Walker Branch Watershed, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are poised to begin their part of a national study to better understand ecosystems. The $434 million National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, project involves scientists at 20 sites – called domains – around the nation. Over the next several weeks, the tower will be equipped with sensors to detect wind speed and direction, carbon dioxide, temperature and other meteorological data. Other work has involved stringing electrical and fiber optic lines to enable high-speed data transfer to the central NEON site. A walkway extending from the instrument hut for about 200 yards leads to a number of observation posts. “These posts will be instrumented to provide real-time data on soil temperature, soil moisture and carbon dioxide concentration all as a function of depth in the soil,” ORNL’s Scott Brooks said. The 20,000-acre Oak Ridge Reservation is the Department of Energy’s only NEON site.4