COVID-19 Affecting Long-Term Research

Elizabeth Thomas's team moving between remote field camps via helicopter in Greenland in July 2018 (Kristen Pope)

How Scientists Are Keeping Irreplaceable Research Going During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Kristen Pope/

Every year for the last half-century, scientists have gone to sea to collect ocean data as part of the Northern Gulf of Alaska Long Term Ecological Research Project. Now, because of the novel coronavirus, the five-decade-long project faces potential data gaps.

Russell Hopcroft, project leader and oceanography professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, says the status of three research cruises planned for 2020 is unclear even as the first is scheduled to depart in five weeks. The research team already decided to replace non-Alaskan team members with Alaskan scientists to reduce the amount of travel involved and drive, rather than fly, to the vessel’s launch point in Seward.

If they can continue, all team members will actively monitor their health for 14 days before boarding, self-quarantining and taking their temperatures regularly. But if the vessel doesn’t sail, the project will see gaps in the physical and biological data scientists have been carefully collecting for decades. “You hate to miss a data point because you never know what any given year is going to look like and whether it’s going to be an important year where something odd has happened,” Hopcroft says.

Hopcroft is one of many researchers scrambling to find ways ….read more: 


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