Arctic research fieldwork impacted by COVID-19 precautions

FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are facing challenges in conducting their research due to limitations from COVID-19 precautions.

University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers in the field. (UAF)

Hajo Eicken, director of the International Arctic Research Center, says the impact from the novel coronavirus pandemic on research that involves field measurements is severe.

"As you know the field season in Alaska is very short, and in particular a lot of our researchers are studying processes that occur in very narrow windows of time -- so that has a major impact. Researchers [are] not being able to go out into the field, potentially not able to visit any of these field sites throughout the summer [and] even into fall,” said Eicken.

Eicken says having more sensors in the field helps get some of those measurements. He says they are also moving their international activities online including a large conference, called the Arctic Observing Summit, which starts in late March.

In addition to coordinating such a large online conference, there are some other challenges presented from holding the event virtually.

"You realize that a lot of the informal conversations, and a lot of the meeting interaction and the types of things that happen... this would have been a meeting over several days in person. Those types of interactions are important because they help you make the shorter periods, where you have working groups get together in a room, be more productive," said Eicken.

He says they are now looking at other tools online, on social media, and through phone calls to try to make up for some of those in person conversations. Eicken says they will take away important lessons from adapting to this challenge.

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