Science & Tech

POLAR scientist shares insights on losing summer of Arctic research

With Canada’s North effectively closed, how are researchers changing their plans?

  • Jun 02, 2020
  • 337 words
  • 2 minutes
Arctic lichen Expand Image

The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively closed off Canada’s North, where communities have shut their borders to protect already vulnerable health and language systems. The Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut have all said only essential workers and people who live in their territories will be permitted in. 

Even though some researchers — like Ian Hogg, team lead of ecosystem science for Polar Knowledge Canada — own property in the North, there will be no access granted for teams of researchers to come and collect data. Hogg’s research involves tracking small insects and monitoring lichen, which can’t be done remotely.

While Hogg understands why these rules are in place, he shared his insights on the ramifications of not being able to conduct field research this summer.  

On how the pandemic has affected research this summer

Our real boots-on-the-ground type of research is the research that won’t happen or go ahead as it would have done. That’s the big change that’s occurred. But there are still things we can do from afar. Under normal circumstances we would have been going crazy getting things ready. Working in a remote location you have to do a lot of pre-planning, with special teams and equipment, arranging to get the freight up there ahead of time. Even simple things like booking travel enough in advance to get good deals on airfares — that’s all a regular part of what we do. With this, we haven’t been able to plan. 

For a lot of our international colleagues, it would be difficult for them to travel anyway. At some point you have to make a call that [this research] just won’t happen. That’s where we’re at now. On the positive side, there’s work that we can do and we continue to do that doesn’t require work on the ground. Satellites don’t care about COVID-19, so we can do some remote sensing, some vegetation monitoring. That kind of work can continue on. 

Scientist looking at map on computer
Ian Hogg shows a springtail he tracked during one summer of Arctic research. (Photo: DW/V. Meduna)
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