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UPDATE: COVID-19 Impacts on Arctic Fieldwork


March 24, 2021

NSF remains committed to being supportive and as responsive as possible to the needs of the research community in the face of challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic. The NSF website has up-to-date information and answers to Frequently Asked Questions for a broad NSF audience: https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/coronavirus/.

This guidance is for researchers funded by the Arctic Sciences Section. The Arctic Sciences Section remains firmly committed to protecting the health of program participants and to preventing the spread of COVID-19 to Arctic communities and research stations. At the same time, the Arctic Sciences Section is striving to ensure that researchers meet their proposed project goals to the extent possible in light of COVID-19 impacts on fieldwork. The Arctic Sciences Section will continue to plan and implement COVID-19 strategies according to the science-based public health guidelines issued by the CDC and World Health Organization. We must also respect state, local, and tribal concerns about researcher travel in and near communities in the Arctic.

Responsible Conduct of Fieldwork During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Arctic Sciences Section recognizes that the feasibility of planned fieldwork in 2021 may be affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions and quarantine protocols necessary to protect health and prevent the spread of the disease. Existing travel restrictions and testing requirements may make some fieldwork impractical. It is also noted that informed consent in the form of advanced approvals by local and tribal Arctic governments must be obtained for those who intend to travel in or near Arctic communities.

Some aspects of fieldwork might best be accomplished in collaboration with others who can service instrumentation, collect samples, or collaborate in other ways. For example, on-site staff are available at Toolik Field Station and Utqiaġvik, Alaska, and Summit Station, Greenland, to support a limited amount of fieldwork.

Researchers with fieldwork planned for 2021 should communicate directly with their cognizant program officer and the regional contact for their fieldwork to discuss fieldwork plans and the implications of delaying fieldwork. For work in Greenland, contact Jennifer Mercer (jmercer@nsf.gov) for work in Alaska or on ships, contact Frank Rack (frack@nsf.gov), and for other international projects, contact Renee Crain (rcrain@nsf.gov).

Limited Fieldwork Can be Supported
All researchers must comply with travel restrictions imposed by their institution and federal/national, state, regional, local, and tribal governments. Researchers must also follow the COVID-19 mitigation protocols developed by the Arctic Sciences Section in collaboration with medical experts and other stakeholders. The protocols include a combination of testing, quarantine, physical distancing and wearing masks. The Arctic Research Support and Logistics program is supporting limited travel for fieldwork, operations, and maintenance following these protocols.

The Arctic Research Support and Logistics Services contractor, Battelle Arctic Research Operations (Battelle-ARO), will make arrangements for travelers to quarantine with appropriate testing. For projects funded outside of the Arctic Sciences Section with need of such arrangements, please contact Renee Crain (rcrain@nsf.gov) to obtain them on a reimbursable basis. Research team members are responsible for their own medical care and medical evacuation costs in the event they test positive for COVID-19 or become ill during travel. Medical evacuation insurance for planned fieldwork is an allowable grant cost.

Alaska
Please consult the State of Alaska website for information for travelers. As a result of continuing and emergent risks that have yet to be eliminated via vaccines, NSF is continuing to use the approach begun in 2020 to prevent introducing the disease to research stations or communities while enabling fieldwork to continue.  The Arctic Sciences Section requires travelers supported by Battelle-ARO to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to travel to Alaska in addition to undergoing up to a two-week quarantine upon arrival in Alaska with testing at the start and end of the quarantine.

Toolik Field Station
Leadership at Toolik Field Station (TFS) worked with the Arctic Sciences Section and Battelle-ARO to develop protocols that enable the station to support approximately 100 people (peak population), taking into account single-room housing and services required by on-site personnel. TFS offers ‘remote access’ support for projects where TFS staff can maintain instrumentation or collect samples to avoid having project personnel travel to TFS. Battelle-ARO will make arrangements for quarantining in Fairbanks.

Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow)
Depending on local travel restrictions, Utqiaġvik may be able to support some fieldwork. Battelle-ARO will make the arrangements through their subcontractor Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC) Science. Quarantine options are available in Anchorage or Fairbanks through Battelle-ARO. Researchers should plan to quarantine for an additional 5 days in Utqiaġvik after 10 days of quarantine and testing in Fairbanks or Anchorage prior to travel to Utqiaġvik. For those researchers who can travel through to Utqiaġvik in one day, a quarantine option is available in Utqiaġvik for 10 days, bypassing the Fairbanks quarantine.

Other Field Locations in Alaska
Out of an abundance of caution, researchers should reconsider whether they need to conduct fieldwork that will require travel through or near any communities. Travel must comply with all applicable travel restrictions. Prior arrangements and permission of the communities is required. Battelle-ARO can assist with quarantine and travel arrangements in Alaska.

Greenland
The Arctic Sciences Section continues to work closely with the Government of Greenland, U.S. Embassy Copenhagen, U.S. Consulate Nuuk, and the Air National Guard to keep Summit Station open and operational throughout the pandemic. In 2021, there will be flights to Kangerlussuaq and Summit Station to support some field research activities, perform maintenance, refuel the station, and change out the operations crew.

All travel to Greenland requires special permission from the Government of Greenland. While NSF anticipates that some fieldwork can be accommodated, please note that there are substantial COVID-19 mitigation processes in place that require a 3-step quarantine and testing procedure. COVID-19 testing is also mandatory prior to returning to the U.S. Battelle-ARO arranges for all testing and quarantining in New York before deployment, in Greenland, and testing prior to returning to the U.S. Except in extreme circumstances, all travelers to/from Greenland are required to transit through NY via the Air National Guard.

In 2020, some projects received field support from Greenland’s research institutions to maintain instrumentation, carry out scientific observations, and/or conduct community engagement. This may be a viable option for 2021 in lieu of travel to Greenland. Researchers are encouraged to work with their program officer and consider alternatives to travel, such as local support or support from Battelle-ARO personnel and science technicians already traveling to Greenland.

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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