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Researchers moved online

Group pictures from field trips are now distant memories only and research collaboration is entirely dependent on remote connections. The worst affected are all the carefully prepared scientific conferences and seminars, which had to be cancelled.

The corona virus crisis does not affect the work of many researchers much, says Timo Koivurova, director of the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland. Research collaboration has always been carried out online.

“We had to cancel the Migration in the North conference, which was due to take place at the end of May. It was a bitter disappointment for me that Finland could not organize the prestigious Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which would have been extremely important for making Antarctic research known and promoting it in Finland, ”says Timo Koivurova.

Research collaboration continues in novel ways. The European Polar Board (EPB) will hold a teleconference in April. Monthly meetings of the Board of the U.S. Arctic Research Consortium (ARCUS) are held using online tools, as always.

“Meetings at the University of Lapland and the Arctic Center continue normally, albeit online. In fact, we are now participating in large numbers as no one is travelling. At the Arctic Centre, we want the units hold regular meetings during such a crisis. ”

However, research collaboration cannot be based on remote connections alone. Scientists also need to meet each other. Vice-President Research of the Arctic University Network UArctic, based at the University of Oulu, hopes that young researchers will also be able to meet senior researchers, participate in workshops and summer schools in the future.

“After this crisis, the world is will not be the same, but we need to preserve the elements that build multidisciplinary Arctic research that will be conducted together throughout the northern region. That requires physical meetings, because we cannot create similar connections alone.

Change brings new possibilities

In support of lecturers, UArctic has opened Arctic Learning Resources, a virtual course site where teaching materials produced over the years have been collected. Within just a few days, the universities added dozens of online courses and other teaching resources to the platform.

“Change always opens up new possibilities. For example, collecting open data for use by different researchers may reduce the need to travel in the future. Scientists are doing a huge amount of duplication of work. Field visits, interview trips and the collection of scientific material could be synchronized, ”says Arja Rautio.

Outi Snellman from the University of Lapland, who heads UArctic's international secretariat, reminds that the research community is resilient. The universities closed their doors, and both students and staff moved to work from home.

According to Outi Snellman, some researchers in social science research have said that they now have time to write articles, even a monograph. But for many, the crisis means that an entire season of field work will be lost.

“There will probably be cases where long data sets are broken. But scientists have always done research in the prevailing circumstances, and I believe that research collaboration will not be compromised. ”

“The victims here may be young researchers who cannot travel to conferences or do exchange programs: they do not yet have a network of international contacts. Conferences, field courses and also exchanges play a key role in creating networks,” Outi Snellman notes.

Student mobility is a key part of UArctic cooperation. Students who were studying abroad through the north2north exchange program have returned home from around the world, and participation in the autumn application round is uncertain.

“The issues and problems that unite the Arctic will not go away with this crisis. Various cooperation structures and funding will continue to be needed. Mobility  may be reduced or changed permanently, but the need for cooperation and interaction will definitely not diminish. ”

Social distancing in field work

Timo Kumpula, Professor of Geoinformatics at the University of Eastern Finland has had to make a digital leap.

"Now I have successfully given a remote lecture during a virtual session at the Arctic Science Summit Week, instead of lecturing in Iceland as planned,  and I have chaired a virtual seminar for graduating students. The university also has plenty of online meetings.”

In the field of geoinformatics, satellite and spatial data are used. Not all material can be collected remotely.

“Preparing for the field season is now tricky. It is not yet clear whether we will be able to carry out all the planned research. We had intended to go to Northern Lapland and Finnmark. ”

If the state of emergency is prolonged, the professor speculates that no measurements can be made this summer. Social distancing would not be impossible in field work, though.

“We have data loggers at some weather stations in northern Lapland, and they need maintenance – data should be collected, and batteries changed. But if you packed your car and refuelled it in Joensuu, you could travel all the way to the fell and get the materials practically without any contacts. You don't necessarily meet anyone when doing field work, ”says Timo Kumpula.

However, students could not participate in field work during the state of emergency. As for the projects, the summer plans have been left open for the time being.

“If the restrictions are prolonged, then we will continue next year. Even if you don’t get the data in one year, that is not the end. Research will continue and life will go on.”

Text: Maija Myllylä

Photo: Timo Kumpula

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