With COVID-19 taking over the world in 2020, the effectiveness and sustainability of the global healthcare systems and economic policies are put into question. However, due to the pandemic, scientists and researchers are losing precious field data due to a halt in climate and ecological monitoring projects.
Twice a year, a group of scientists at Oregon State University head out to the coasts of Oregon and Washington to refurbish and clean more than 100 delicate sensors responsible for recording weather data. These 100 sensors are only a small segment of the large scientific network called ‘Ocean Observatories Initiative’ costing the US 44 Million dollars each year. Keeping in mind the lockdown restrictions, scientists haven’t been able to go out to the sea this year due to which instruments are degrading, precious field data is disappearing and gaps will be created in the data collected over decades.
In addition to that, the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program has also been severely affected; a network of 30 ecological sites stretching from Alaska all the way to Antarctica are left unattended. As the field data is lost, this might be the first interruption in data records in more than 40 years.
In order to collect data to measure the weather, currents and other significant properties of the ocean, scientists often ride along commercial container ships that travel the world’s oceans. While the ships are still running, the scientists are unable to be on board due to travel and gathering restrictions. Due to this, the entire project has been shut down until the pandemic dies down and travel restrictions ease. Since the beginning of February, about 15% of stations have been lost that would report data to scientists regularly. Moreover, commercial flights also provide weather data by measuring the temperature, pressure and wind speeds as they cruise.
The meteorological data provided by the US aircraft fleet alone have decreased to half its normal levels since the end of March. It is reported that the loss of aircraft observations will increase the forecast error by 1-2% making us vulnerable to natural disasters in such dire times.
How COVID-19 could ruin weather forecasts and climate records