Arctic Research Team Disrupted When Member Tests Positive for Coronavirus

A research team that is spending a year in the Arctic to study climate change has found that not even they are safe from the coronavirus. According to reports, a member of the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (aka MOSAIC) has tested positive for the virus, potentially infecting other members of the team. As you would expect, this news puts serious doubts into the continuation of the project, not to mention potentially threatening the health of the researchers.

I first told you about MOSAIC way back in September of last year, when the team was just planning to launch its mission. The idea was to take an icebreaking research ship deep into the Arctic Ocean, cut its engines, and purposefully get it stuck in the ice. Over the following months, the ship was to drift with the ocean currents, while researchers observed the thawing and freezing of the ice, taking measurements of its thickness, extant, and general all-around health. The goal was to gather important information on how our warming planet is impacting the fragile ecosystem in the Arctic.

As part of that process, members of the team would come and go throughout the course of the year. Some would be stationed aboard the ship—the Polarstern—for varying lengths before being replaced by other researchers. Apparently, one of those replacements had been exposed to the coronavirus and has now come into contact with 20 other members of the group, resulting in all of them being quarantined. Thankfully, none of these individuals is currently on the Polarstern but several were set to rotate onto the ship to continue the research. Because they are now facing a 14-day observation period, some crucial experiments may not be able to be conducted. All of those impacted by the virus are a part of the MOSAIC aerial team, which was assembled to take atmospheric studies of the Arctic and the shifting conditions there.

Moving forward, all members of the team will be tested multiple times before they are cleared to return to the ship. For now, they’re all under quarantine and will have to be cleared by doctors before traveling to Svalbard, Norway—the launching point for the expedition. Once there, they’ll be tested again before being flown to the Polarstern to resume their duties. Considering the research mission is expected to last until October, instituting these medical checks now seems like a really good idea.

Kraig Becker