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Published November 13, 2023
For the next five years, the University of Wyoming’s Stable Isotope Facility (SIF) will be the go-to laboratory to analyze National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) soil samples from across the country.
The SIF, located in UW’s Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center, recently secured a project worth $193,806 (including in-kind support) to analyze soil samples from the entire NEON network across the United States. The contract began Nov. 1.
“The University of Wyoming Stable Isotope Facility will serve as the exclusive laboratory in the country responsible for analyzing NEON’s soil samples for elemental nitrogen and carbon content and stable isotope composition,” says Chandelle Macdonald, laboratory manager of the SIF. “All of the data collected by NEON is open source so that anyone can access and use the data.”
The National Science Foundation (NSF) established NEON, located in Boulder, Colo., and operated by Battelle Memorial Institute, to observe how U.S. ecosystems are being impacted by changes in climate, land use and invasion of nonnative species. NEON has 81 field sites that cover the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. The sites have been strategically selected to represent different regions of vegetation, landforms, climate and ecosystem performance.
Battelle Memorial Institute, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, has expertise in large research infrastructure and was commissioned in 2016 by NSF to operate the NEON project.
Soil samples at each NEON site are collected from multiple layers, or horizons, ranging from the surface to a foot deep, Macdonald explains. Under the contract arrangement, samples are sent to the SIF, where they are then analyzed. Data are reported back to NEON and made publicly available.
“The carbon and nitrogen content and isotope ratio values measured by the SIF provide essential information about changes in soil and ecosystem health that may be driven by natural and human-caused disturbances unfolding at local to continental scales,” Macdonald says.
UW’s SIF, a core research facility in UW’s Research and Economic Development Division, was established in 2003 to provide specialized stable isotope ratio analysis of environmental samples for UW and external researchers.
“There are many tedious tasks when dealing with NEON samples, and this new award will not be any different,” Macdonald says. “Several undergraduate technicians working in the SIF will be responsible for much of the work.”
UW undergraduate students who are working with the soil samples, listed by their hometowns and majors, are:
Colorado Springs, Colo. -- Bonnie Yinger, physics.
Evergreen, Colo. -- Duncan Emmons, theater.
Harrisonville, Mo. -- Skylar Lite, wildlife biology.
Laramie -- Gideon Buchanan, chemistry.
Pinedale -- Dana Ramberg, microbiology.
Macdonald also is assisted by two part-time lab technicians who are UW alumni. They are Callum Russell, who received his bachelor’s degree in geology in 2020, and Dori Wolfe, who earned her bachelor’s degree in history in 2010.
UW’s SIF has performed analyses on NEON soils since 2014 and was instrumental in developing sample preparation and analysis methods from the start.
“Being chosen above all other labs in the country to analyze the nation’s soils is a great honor and attests to UW’s ability to compete at a national level,” Macdonald says.
About UW’s Stable Isotope Facility
UW’s SIF provides quality isotopic analyses for the research community at UW and researchers worldwide. The SIF offers a hands-on teaching and research facility for UW students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty members. The facility is engaged in the development of novel analytical techniques for research in biological and Earth system sciences. Its mission is to provide quality data with the utmost integrity. Interpretation of this data is left up to the user.