Field Ecologist I - Instrumentation

  • NEON
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Jul 11, 2019
Biology - Ecology Fisheries - Marine Science - Aquatic Biology

Job Description


Battelle manages and operates the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project, which is solely funded by the National Science Foundation. A 30+ year project dedicated to understanding how changes in climate, land use and invasive species impact ecology, the observatory’s scientists and engineers are collecting a comprehensive range of ecological data on a continental scale across 20 eco-climatic domains representing US ecosystems.  Our teams use cutting-edge technology, including an airborne observation platform that captures images of regional landscapes and vegetation; mobile, relocatable, and fixed data collection sites with automated ground sensors to monitor soil and atmosphere; and trained field crews who observe and sample populations of diverse organisms and collect soil and water data.  Once structures are completed, a leading edge cyberinfrastructure will calibrate, store and publish this information.  The Observatory includes more than 500+ personnel and is the first of its kind designed to detect and enable forecasting of ecological change at continental scales.

Field Ecologists report to the Field Operations Manager.

Field Ecologist I - The Field Ecologist I is a biological sampling lead performing seasonal and periodic sampling activities and sample processing. Seasonal field sampling is conducted with the assistance of temporary field crews under the guidance of the Field Ecologist. This position will be supporting instrumentation, limnology, and soil protocols. 


The NEON Project’s Domain 12/15 is a dual Domain with offices located in Utah and Montana. This position will be based in the Salt Lake City, UT office.  Domain 12/15 consists of three terrestrial and two aquatic sites. Terrestrial field sites are located SW of Salt Lake City in the West Desert (ONAQUI), South of the town of Moab (MOAB) and in Yellowstone National Park (YELL). The UT sites are characterized by expansive sagebrush/shrubland and pinyon-juniper habitats, while the Yellowstone site is characterized by wildland populations of megafauna and sagebrush/pine dominated habitats. Domain base locations are classically Western, with sweeping views of valleys, plains and local mountains that are fun and exciting to live and work in. The Domain’s two aquatic sites are located in the pristine Red Butte Canyon Research Natural Area (REDB) just above Salt Lake City and in Yellowstone National Park (BLDE). The terrain at all sites is moderately rugged requiring 4WD driving, UTV use and challenging hiking at altitude (Salt Lake City lies at ~4200ft/1280m elevation, Yellowstone National Park lies at ~6500ft/1980m). We work in all kinds of weather, across seasons: very hot and dry, heavy precipitation, and freezing windy days.

Expect highly variable schedules, including 10-12-hour days for many days in a row, as well as periods of less than 40 hours a week, as storms, wildfires and flash floods impede sampling.  Hazards are generally minimal, but include some chance of encountering stinging insects, rattlesnakes, thorny plants, and potentially dangerous encounters with large mammals.  Lastly, 2 out of 3 sites involve moderate to long travel times with some overnight stay required when working at the MOAB and YELL sites.

Salt Lake is 20 minutes from world-class skiing, backpacking, and rock climbing, with all the cultural benefits of a large city. Although the remote base locations are smaller in size, Moab is an epicenter for outdoor adventurers interested in rafting, hiking, desert sandstone rock climbing, and mountain biking. Working in Domain 15 offers the best of the West, spanning the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau. 


Instrumentation (tower) emphasis:

  • Test, troubleshoot and operate instruments, calibration equipment and test fixtures.
  • Inspect and maintain civil infrastructure including boom arms, sensor mounts, towers, boardwalks and instrument huts.
  • Record activities, completed work and trouble tickets according to Field Operations protocol.
  • Example of relevant instrumentation: Eddy Covariance turbulent exchange and storage exchange sensors, aspirated air temperature sensors, anemometers (2D and 3D), photometer, pyranometer, LI-840A, Picarro G2131-I or L2130-I, Mass flow controllers/meters, Radiometers, LI-7200, soil sensors including - salinity/moisture, CO2, heat flux, wet deposition, precipitation gauges (DFIR, tipping bucket, throughfalls), humidity probe, barometer, SUNA (Submersible Ultraviolet Nitrate analyzer), multiparameter sonde, and pressure transducers 

General duties include:

  • Report activities, completed work, and sampling problems according to Field Operations protocols.
  • Inspect, maintain and operate field, safety and laboratory equipment.
  • Operate laboratory equipment (e.g. Wiley Mill, drying oven, analytical balance, centrifugal mill, pH meter, microscope, and muffle furnace).
  • Assist the Field Operations Manager with recruiting and training of seasonal field personnel.
  • Provide instruction and technical guidance to seasonal field personnel.
  • Perform plot establishment by locating plots with GPS navigation as well as measuring and marking plots.
  • Assist the Field Operations Manager with materials planning, inventory and ordering as well as day-to-day oversight of personnel and scheduling of activities coordinated from the field office.
  • Follow NEON Project safety and Field Operations policy and procedures. 

Field activities may include:

  • Follow established, standardized field protocols for sample collection and handling; record and verify accuracy of data from sample collections; process samples in the laboratory; send samples to external analytical labs. Train and lead field crews performing the aforementioned items.
  • Perform other field sampling activities as assigned including: ground beetle collection (pitfall trapping), mosquito collection (CO2 light traps, tick collection (dragging and flagging) and soil core collection.
  • Test, troubleshoot and operate tower, soil and aquatic instruments, calibration equipment and test fixtures.
  • Inspect and maintain civil infrastructure including boom arms, sensor mounts, towers, boardwalks and instrument huts.
  • Monitor and sample aquatic sites for water quality, biological indicators and physical properties of site (e.g. gaging streams, geomorphic mapping). 

Physical demands:

The work is physical and involves walking, hiking, prolonged standing, walking and bending. Heavy items (e.g. equipment and packs up to 40 pounds) must be lifted and carried on a routine basis. 

Work environment:

Fieldwork includes exposure to extreme weather conditions and terrain, pesticides, poisonous plants, biting insects, and wild animals. Tower work involves performing work on instrument towers ranging in height from 24 feet to 300 feet, which will include ascending and descending multiple flights of stairs.


The NEON Project will be selecting a Field Ecologist I. Equivalent education and experience may be considered.
•    Field Ecologist I
o    Bachelor’s degree in ecology, environmental sciences or related scientific discipline.
o    One (1) or more years’ of related experience. 

All Field Ecologist Levels:
•    Ability to work in a team environment.
•    Experience should include performing scientific data entry and data management.
•    Ability to hike off-trail to assigned field site for long distances carrying field equipment (pack weighing up to 40 lbs.) for extended periods.
•    Ability and willingness to travel overnight frequently (e.g. semi-monthly for 3-4 nights). 

The NEON Project will take into consideration qualifications for specific and diverse experience in the following areas:

o    Effective leadership skills and the ability to motivate others.
o    Effective problem solving skills and the ability to determine and act on changing priorities in a fast paced dynamic environment.
o    Ability to organize and execute multiple activities and priorities.

o    Ability to perform minor troubleshooting, calibration, and repair of field equipment.
o    Ability to follow written and verbal instructions.
o    Ability and willingness to learn and adopt new technologies as needed.
o    Ability to work independently and as part of a team.
o    High level of attention to detail and accuracy.
o    Ability to make effective decisions that take into consideration safety and operational standards.

Working conditions:
o    Ability and willingness to work varied field operations schedules (up to 12+ hours per day), including split shift, part-time, pre-dawn early mornings, evenings and weekends.
o    Ability and willingness to work on towers ranging in height from 24 feet to 300 feet including ascending and descending multiple flights of stairs on instrument towers.
o    Perform field assignments in a variety of terrain and of weather conditions including cold and wet winter weather and extreme heat.
o    Ability to withstand exposure to fumes, dust, noise and toxicodendron plants (e.g. poison ivy and poison oak), ticks, biting insects and other natural hazards.
o    Ability and willingness to travel overnight frequently (e.g. semi-monthly for 3-4 nights) is required. 

Applicants must have authorization to work in the United States. 

Employment is contingent on background screen, drug screen, motor vehicle records check and physical. 

Must possess a current and valid State issued driver’s license with insurable Department of Motor vehicle record (parking violations, minor driving offenses excluded) as determined by Battelle’s insurance provider. 


The above statements are intended to describe the nature and level of work being performed by people assigned to this job. They are not intended to be an exhaustive list of all responsibilities, activities and skills required of staff members. No statement herein is intended to imply any authorities to commit Battelle unless special written permission is granted by Battelle's Legal Department. 


Battelle’s competitive benefits program includes comprehensive medical and dental care, matching 401K, paid time off, flexible spending accounts, disability coverage, and other benefits that help provide financial protection for you and your family.