Researchers look for unique ways to collect data as COVID-19 changes methods

Researchers look for unique ways to collect data as COVID-19 changes methods

‘It’s a pretty bleak year for research’

Aaron Fairweather has 27 colonies of ants to keep happy in the living room by getting the temperature, humidity and light just right although the environment at home may not feel quite as comfortable as in a lab.

The PhD entomology student from the University of Guelph said it was the only way to continue collecting data as COVID-19 puts a damper on research and labs can’t be used.

Fairweather, like several other scientists, is trying to make the best of the summer when researchers typically spend long hours outdoors collecting data in the field.

“It’s a pretty bleak year for research,” Fairweather said. “There will be a gap in the knowledge.”

Fairweather had been planning an intensive research project on ants since last fall but said a lack of the usual resources could mean a setback for an entire year.

“I have to wait till next year, probably, to be able to get in and do the active experiments that I wanted to do.”

While the data collected from the colonies of ants at home could help, that type of research is not feasible for many scientists so a gap in research might mean data could be skewed or years of work have to be thrown out, Fairweather said.

Arthur Fredeen, a professor in the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute at the University of Northern British Columbia, said he is concerned about teaching field work.

His ecology class this fall requires working with students taking measurements and observations in the field, he said.

“I’ve had to grapple with the technologies that can help me deliver the course online, even though it will be quite challenging to do so in an adequate way.”

Pascal Lee won’t be testing equipment and studying rocks in the high Arctic this month, likely for the first time in nearly 25 years.

The chairman of the Mars Institute and a planetary scientist with the California-based SETI Institute does research on Devon Island because its surface resembles the “red planet.”

This year his team planned on testing a new space suit and an “astronaut smart glove.”

The group hopes to make it to the island in September but if that falls through, their equipment may have to be tested in the United States.

“Missing a summer for us means missing a year,” he said.

The choice for some researchers is between losing out on a year of data collection through field work and adapting to quarantine on a boat for a month.

The director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit will be doing the latter with eight researchers as they continue a study from last year to determine if there is a shortage of chinook salmon for southern resident killer whales.

Andrew Trites said the researchers are creating their own bubble on the boat, starting with a two-week quarantine period before they board the vessel in mid-August.

Everybody is “a little paranoid,” Trites said.

“In the end if the pandemic doesn’t kill us, maybe being confined together will,” he said laughing. “It’ll be quite a challenge.”

On a similar research trip last year, scientists got off the boat after docking and went into cities and towns, but that won’t happen this year, he said.

Only one person, masked and gloved, will be allowed to leave the wooden boat called Gikumi to get supplies while the vessel is refuelled.

“We’re going to be packed a little bit like sardines but everybody has a job on the boat,” he said, noting team members are aware of the effect the quarantine period might have on their mental health although being able to see the horizon may help.

Field work is important, Trites said because there is an element of biology, which can’t be done without being near animals.

While computers and mathematical models make projections and look at probabilities, he said answers to some questions can come only by observing animals in their natural habitat and recording what’s going on to make meaningful comparisons and draw conclusions.

What the team will miss, Trites said, is the interaction with researchers on other boats.

One of the biggest losses this research season may be the generation of new ideas, reflection, and the “ability to brainstorm together to solve biological mysteries,” he said.

“So, we’ll be waving at other researchers whom we know from a distance, and hoping there will be an opportunity in six months, a year, year-and-a-half, where you can finally sit down together and have much more meaningful conversations.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Kyler Corriveau, of the Eckville area, was found dead on Sunday southeast of Red Deer. Police are investigating his death as a homicide. (Contributed photo).
Young Red Deer homicide victim is remembered as a caring friend

Police are investigating Kyler Corriveau’s untimely death

Sylvan Lake Winter Village. File Photo
3 charged in connection to vandalism at Sylvan Lake Winter Village

Sylvan Lake RCMP were able to identify the suspects thanks to community assistance

Sabrina Armeneau
Sylvan Lake RCMP search for woman missing for five years

Sabrina Armeneau was reported missing on Jan. 15, but has not been seen in five years

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Calgary flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

Lucas Berg, left, with the backpacks filled with essential items he donated to the Red Deer Mustard Seed Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Central Alberta teenager donates filled 20 backpacks to Red Deer Mustard Seed

Lucas Berg, 14, of Ponoka County says he ‘just wants to help people’

A conveyor belt transports coal at the Westmoreland Coal Co.’s Sheerness mine near Hanna, Alta., on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. Coal mining impacts are already occurring in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains even as debate intensifies over the industry’s presence in one of the province’s most beloved landscapes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
As Alberta debates coal mining, industry already affecting once-protected Rockies

UCP revoked a policy that had protected eastern slopes of the Rockies from open-pit coal mining since 1976

Most Read