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Scientists In Arctic Prepare To Return To Society On Lockdown


Believe it or not, there is a place in this world where no one is thinking about social distancing at all. Here's Molly Samuel of member station WABE.

MOLLY SAMUEL, BYLINE: The Mosaic expedition is an international project to study the warming Arctic. For a year, scientists from all over the world are taking turns living in an icebreaker frozen alongside an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean.

CHRIS MARSAY: So looking around me from the ship's bridge, I can see the sea ice stretching away to the horizon in every direction.

SAMUEL: Chris Marsay is a research associate at the University of Georgia. He studies trace elements that get deposited on the ocean's surface. When he left for his three-month shift, the coronavirus was only known to be in China. No one on the ship has gotten it.

MARSAY: We're able to get on with our daily work. We sit together for our meals. And we sit with each other to chat in the evenings.

SAMUEL: Marsay and his colleagues were supposed to have left the ship last month. But because of the pandemic, those flights were canceled.

MARSAY: It's been kind of surreal to hear of the restrictions on daily life for family and friends back home. And there have been plenty of conversations on board about how strange it will be to get back and be confronted with a completely different way of life than that which we left in January.

SAMUEL: Some worry for friends and family back home. Now the plan is to break out of the ice and meet another ship so people can rotate on and off. The new arrivals will be quarantined. In a way, Marsay says, he and the others feel lucky to be onboard.

MARSAY: I never expected to come to the middle of the Arctic Ocean and have my daily life be less restrictive than it would be at home. But in many ways, that's certainly the case at the moment.

SAMUEL: Marsay says, some people are eager to get off the ship. Others are OK with staying as long as they can.

For NPR News, I'm Molly Samuel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Molly Samuel joined WABE as a reporter in November 2014. Before coming on board, she was a science producer and reporter at KQED in San Francisco, where she won awards for her reporting on hydropower and on crude oil.