Is it safe to go into the field?

Missing fieldwork can be devastating for research, but heading into the field carries risks, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When is it safe to return? ©LTER Network

Avoiding fieldwork amid the COVID-19 pandemic can have long-lasting impacts on research. Missing measurements can scuttle long-term projects. Interrupting experiments can change them altogether. Can researchers conduct fieldwork without putting themselves or others at risk?

“These are thorny questions that we must each tackle as we decide whether to request an exemption to university research closures and — as the peak of the pandemic passes — when and how to return to the field,” researchers at the Long Term Ecological Research Network write in a guest post for the Ecological Society of America.

As biologists consider returning to the field, they offer some questions to consider. What would be different if I delayed these measurements until next month or next year? Can I maintain 2 meters of separation at all times? Could everyone involved decline to participate if they didn’t feel safe? Is there another way to fill the data gap? Can I develop creative ways to move the research forward and keep students and technicians employed? What would a casual observer think?

“There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions,” they write.