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Ocean interfaces under global changes –
Exploring the fate of the Amazon River plume

10.04.2021 – Science during a pandemic

The past year has been quite  different. What was natural before, is not anymore. The Covid-Pandemic has affected our private and professional lives in a way, nobody had imagined before, and everyone had to adapt to a new, restrictive way of life.

Travelling, meeting with colleagues, even going to the lab or the office are off the table.  Deadlines for the funding of projects suddenly became much more of a problem than they were before and many projects were in danger of never being fully accomplished. Nevertheless, we took a deep breath (or rather a lot of them) and decided to keep going and do our best. Research cannot stop. Experiments that have been planned or even started already have to be continued, with compromises.

We can work in the lab with a mask (at least that might keep samples even more clean…) and do home office the rest of the time.  We experienced some drawbacks, as communication got more complicated, but we managed. But how do you keep following the rules when you need to go on a research ship, where space is limited?

For the MeNARP project (Metabolism of nitrogen in the ARP), planning the cruise within the health guidelines felt like an insurmountable obstacle at first. The travel restrictions were a big shock. We had been planning a scientific cruise to the Amazon River plume with an international team of scientists for a long time. But with border restrictions, it was almost impossible to book a flight, and unfortunately, part of our team was not able to join. Suddenly, it seemed that we would not be able to make the cruise happen. After a long time of waiting and searching for solutions, we got the relieving notice that the shipping agency would make the cruise possible - with a lot of safety measures, starting with 10 days of quarantine in a hotel, isolated from everyone else.

On April 1st, we started our trip to Varel, where we were welcomed at the hotel in a big hall. We were all seated with safety distance and were tested individually with a rapid antigen test. Luckily, everyone was tested negative for COVID-19. Then we were guided to our rooms and were not allowed to leave them for the next 10 days. Food was delivered to our doors without contact with the hotel personnel. We all felt a bit weird, but the staff was really friendly and tried their best to make us feel comfortable.

We could enjoy nice food, held sports meetings over videochat and even were surprised with a little concert, which we could watch from our balconies. The thought of not being allowed to leave the room and go outside was hard and being productive in our bedrooms was not as easy as some of us had imagined. Special situations call for patience with yourself and we tried our best to support each other as much as possible via online technology. An advantage of the quarantine was that we all had the chance to already get to know each other a bit before the cruise started.  Going trough ups and downs together made us feel like a team right from the beginning on.

Two negative PCR tests later, we were finally allowed to leave our room on April 10th. One last relieving knock on our door announced the long awaited start of our journey. With mask we left our rooms and started the bus ride to Köln-Bonn airport, where we were guided to a separate terminal and joined our private flight to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. We all felt quite privileged as we entered the VIP terminal (our hopes to meet someone famous were not fulfilled though).  Pilots, stewardesses, and bus drivers also had to be tested negative for  COVID-19. This way we did everything to limit our contacts. After a convenient 4 hours flight we arrived safely in Las Palmas. The shipping agency made sure we were in good hands for the last leg of our travels and we said goodbye to our official compagny at the airport. During the last short bus ride of the day, the atmosphere was filled with excitement and about two hours after our landing we reached the port of Las Palmas and couldn’t really believe that it was real, as we saw the R/V Meteor waiting for us at the dock…
It took some time for us to realize that the cruise was actually happening now  - although with mask for the first days - and we will give you some insights on our first days on board in the next entry. Ahoi, until then!

Text: Umbricht J., Choisnard N., Voss M. (all IOW)

Expedition: M174
Mission: MeNARP
Start: 12.04.2021 - Las Palmas
Destination: 31.05.2021 - Emden


Meteor: Current Position

Research vessel Meteor