Tag Archives: covid

Despite COVID-19 delays, UGA Skidaway Institute scientist heading home from the Arctic

After four months at sea, including two and a half months on board a German ice breaker locked in the Arctic ice cap, University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Chris Marsay is on his way home. His return trip comes six weeks later than planned due to travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 crisis.

Chris Bundled

Chris Marsay, all wrapped up for working out on the ice during windy conditions.

Marsay has been on board the research vessel Polarstern as part of a major international research project to study climate change in the Arctic named Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate, or “MOSAiC.” Last fall the Polarstern sailed into the Arctic Ocean until it became locked in the ice. The plan was for the ship to drift with the ice for a year all the while serving as a headquarters for scientists to study Arctic climate change. Scientists were scheduled in shifts or “legs” to work for two to three months at a time. However, unable to exchange the science teams by either air or with another ice breaker, MOSAiC organizers decided to pull the Polarstern out of the ice pack and leave the research station for an estimated three weeks while the changeover takes place.

“My time working at the MOSAiC ice floe has come to an end, and I am currently traveling south on the Polarstern towards Svalbard where the exchange between personnel from legs three and four of the project will take place,” Marsay said. “Due to the travel restrictions in place because of COVID-19, it was not possible to carry out the exchange at the ice floe itself as originally planned.”

The replacement team is already at Svalbard aboard two other German vessels. They completed a two-week quarantine and multiple coronavirus tests before departure. The teams will exchange ship-to-ship in a fiord since Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago, is closed to outside visitors because of COVID-19.

According to Marsay, his time at the MOSAiC ice floe has been eventful. “The ice was much more dynamic than it had been during the first months of the MOSAiC project,” he said. “Cracks and leads frequently opened up in the area around the ship, and the ice movement also formed ridges of ice blocks several feet high.”

Ice Crack 650p

A crack that opened up next to the ship in mid-March meant that some equipment had to be hurriedly moved to safety.

All of these events restricted access to some research sites, but the work continued, providing new sampling opportunities for the researchers.

This was not Marsay’s first trip to the Arctic. A 2015 research cruise took him to the North Pole, but this trip was a new experience. “It’s been unique to witness the transition from winter to spring in the central Arctic Ocean,” he said. “During our time at the floe we experienced a minimum temperature of negative 40 degrees Celsius, not accounting for wind chill, and a maximum of zero degrees Celsius. The sun did not rise until two weeks after we arrived at the floe, and has not set since late March.”

Marsay also experienced windy days with storm-force winds and whiteout conditions due to blowing snow, and days with beautiful clear skies when the sun reflecting off the snow was dazzling, he said.

Ship Blown Snow 650p

As calm conditions gradually return after a couple of days of windy conditions, Polarstern is visible through some blowing snow at ground level.

During his participation in MOSAiC, Marsay collected snow, ice cores, sea water and aerosol samples as part of our project studying the atmospheric deposition of trace elements in the central Arctic.

SkiDoo 600p

Each Monday, Marsay was part of a team that collected multiple ice cores at a site far enough away from the ship that a Ski-Doo and sledges were needed.

He also learned some new skills, including driving a Ski-Doo, and on several occasions he carried a rifle and served as a polar bear guard for colleagues.

Bear Tracks 480p

The researches had one polar bear visit (that they know of) during leg 3. These footprints within a couple of hundred yards of Polarstern.

“We on board will have been at sea for over four months by the time we get to Germany,” Marsay said. “When we started, the COVID 19 virus was not widespread outside of China.

“We have all been following the news from back home, and although we’re looking forward to getting home, everyone is expecting some initial difficulties getting used to the way that public life has changed while we’ve been away.”

Become part of Skidaway Institute’s mission!

Dear Friends of Skidaway Institute,

In these days of coronavirus restrictions and an economic downturn, the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography needs your support more than ever. You have probably heard that the governor has asked for 14% budget cuts from all state agencies for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and we are preparing for some serious belt tightening. I ask you to help us by making or increasing your membership donation to our non-profit fundraising arm, the Associates of Skidaway Institute.

Your financial support is very important in helping us to continue to achieve our research and education mission in service to the state of Georgia and the nation. Your membership donation will support a variety of expenses not covered by state funds, particularly associated with providing research opportunities for undergraduates, supporting graduate students and outfitting the labs of newly hired scientists. With the Institute faculty gaining a formal educational mission in our 2013 merger with UGA, on-going student support has become critical for us, as we seek to train the next-generation of scientists while continuing our research mission. I cannot overstate the value of your financial support and the flexibility that it gives us to provide support for students to train under Skidaway scientists.

Current membership provides benefits including our quarterly Skidaway Campus Notes newsletter, invitations to on-campus events like the Evening @ Skidaway seminar series, and in-lab visits with Skidaway faculty. Along with the tangible benefits of an Associates membership, you will know that you are supporting leading-edge research and education addressing some of the most pressing questions in ocean and environmental sciences.

For your convenience, you may begin or renew your membership online with a credit card. Simply click HERE. Or you can mail your donation to:

Associates of Skidaway Institute
10 Ocean Science Circle
Savannah, GA 31411

The Associates of Skidaway Institute is a unit of the University of Georgia Foundation, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. All contributions are fully tax deductible.

Thank you in advance for your continuing interest and support.

Clark Alexander
Director
UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography

UGA Skidaway campus reacts to COVID-19 crisis

Like everyone else in the country, the organizations on the UGA Skidaway Marine Science Campus have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-March, UGA Skidaway Institute cut back on all on-campus activities. Most active research was put on hold and faculty and staff were directed to telecommute as possible. Scheduled research and educational cruises on board the R/V Savannah were postponed. A small team of staff members continue to work on campus to maintain facilities and systems. Monthly Evening @ Skidaway public programs are cancelled, at least through the summer.

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Alexander

“Although we are currently pausing our research and educational efforts, we are eager to restart those programs as soon as it is safe to do so,” Director Clark Alexander said.

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant shut down operations about the same time. The UGA Aquarium closed, and all educational field trips were cancelled for the remainder of the school year.

photoRisse

Risse

“Our biggest priorities in our response has been the health and safety of our staff and the public that we interact with regularly,” Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant said. “For this reason, we made the hard decision to cancel many of our public programs and conferences this spring, as well as our summer marine science camps scheduled in June and July.”

Educators at the UGA Aquarium have transitioned several in-person public programs to virtual platforms. Registration is currently open for a series of engaging online events scheduled for June and July that focus on marine animals and coastal habitats. Learn more at gacoast.uga.edu/events.

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Shellfish Research Lab is supporting the aquaculture industry by providing technical assistance to shellfish growers and sharing information about COVID-related resources. A handful of extension specialists at the lab continue to keep the oyster hatchery running and are producing oyster seed for shellfish farmers on the coast.

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary remains open while its headquarters facilities on the UGA Skidaway Marine Science Campus are closed and staff is working from home. Most non-essential operations and research activities have been postponed, including the annual NOAA Ship Nancy Foster expedition, typically hosted in mid-July. The Gray’s Reef Expo on River Street has been tentatively rescheduled for November 21-22. Outreach from Gray’s Reef is focusing on digital and virtual events. Updates and additional news from the sanctuary be found at Gray’s Reef’s social media pages. This includes facebook.com/GraysReefSanctuaryor twitter.com/GraysReefNMS.