Collecting Climate Change Data in the Field

SCA Partners with NEON on Massive Climate Change Database

Since 1957, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) has been at the forefront of preserving our national parks and forests, with the knowledge that these natural “lungs” act as a critical cooling and cleaning mechanism for our planet, pulling carbon dioxide from the air while releasing oxygen. But in recent years, SCA has expanded beyond preservation work, partnering with other organizations to work more directly on the problem of climate change—the overriding environmental issue of our time.

Between Field and Lab with NEON

In its quest to address climate change and increase student engagement in this issue, SCA recently launched a partnership with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) to contribute to a massive, new climate change database for the Americas.

Equipped with a network of 81 field sites across the United States and slated to add even more, NEON is an ambitious 30-year program designed to gather and synthesize data on the effects of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species on natural resources and biodiversity. From aircraft surveillance to field-deployed sensors, NEON engages in a wide range of practices to collect data—but there is still no substitute for on-the-ground field sampling. And this is where SCA interns are playing play a vital role.

To kick off the partnership, twenty-four initial internships have been established at the following NEON sites:

  • California: under the guidance of professional biologists and field technicians, SCA interns conduct soil sampling, small-mammal trapping, insect collection, and vegetation surveys in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They also perform data entry, gaining valuable laboratory experience as they process samples and identify insects and plants.
  • Alaska: interns perform field observation as well as collecting, handling, and processing a variety of animal populations in the Tioga and Tundra Domains. Their work is not limited to the field, but also includes laboratory activities and biological sampling.
  • The Midwest: interns are active in Kansas, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, sampling soil and processing samples, while also trapping mosquitoes, beetles, and ticks to help determine how changes in climate, land use, and invasive species are affecting our ecology.

The millions of data points collected by the interns will provide key input for the climate-change database, which NEON will make available to the public to inform the work of scientists, land managers, policy makers, educators, and students.

A New Generation of Climate Leaders

By partnering with organizations such as NEON, SCA is actively advancing its commitment to engaging a new generation of conservation leaders in tackling climate change. The combination of on-the-ground and laboratory work complements interns’ classroom learning, providing hands-on experience that will be needed to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. And as the partnership with NEON continues to grow, more interns across the country will be able to receive this necessary training—while helping to gather the climate information we need to act.