Sailing through Quarantine

While Expedition 396 hasn’t yet set sail, the science party is already hard at work. Having navigated international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sailing science party is now cloistered away in matching rooms in the port city of Reykjavik, Iceland, waiting out their one-week quarantine before boarding the ship.

With just two days to go, the scientists have faced one of two COVID-19 tests and attended numerous meetings on Zoom to get better acquainted with the team, science, and safety standards.

“Like the last 18 months, life on Zoom is stilted, but necessary,” wrote Reed Scherer, professor of micropaleontology and biostratigraphy at Northern Illinois University. “Difference is we’re not home! Weird talking on Zoom without a cat jumping on my lap.”

Passing the first quarantine milestone, all scientists and techs have now passed the first COVID test, which was taken on Day 3 of quarantine.

“First COVID test negative for everyone and I couldn’t be more excited and relieved. One step closer to this exciting expedition with a group of people that I can’t wait to interact with in person,” wrote Marialena Christopoulou, a sedimentologist and PhD student at Northern Illinois University.

While Christopoulou is missing fresh air and real interpersonal interactions, she is happy to do her part to have a safe expedition. Similarly for petrologist and University of Utah assistant professor Sarah Lambart, quarantine is both boring and exciting. She writes:

This week, our main activity being in front of our screen all day without any interruptions means that I can have some work done. I’m juggling between Zoom meetings and Methods writing with the team, abstract revisions for AGU, articles and proposal preparation, and zoom meetings with my research group to answer all their questions before the departure day. And when my brain is too tired, I’m watching a movie… That’s a lot of screen time and I must admit that I often finish the day with a headache…

Unlike others, Sarah’s not alone in her quarantine. She brought along 6 buddies to keep her company. They’ve been joining Sarah for lab safety meetings and COVID testings, and she’s sharing their joint adventures on Twitter (@Sarah_Lambart).

Lambart’s quarantine companions.
Lambart’s quarantine companions join in for safety training.

“I would say this Reykjavik Cage experience for me is sort of comparable with the weather, i.e. it is what it is. You can complain about it – a lot – but that doesn’t change anything,” wrote Henk Brinkhuis, a marine palynologist and paleoecologist at the NWO-NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and professor at Utrecht University. “So you try to make the best out of it. Pretty much like the ‘working at home’ episode during the various lockdowns.”

Brinkhuis is keeping busy with attending pre-expedition meetings and social gatherings on Zoom, making Nespresso coffee with a travel-size do-it-yourself kit, and watching the Olympics.

Despite some disappointment in the food delivered to the scientists’ rooms – the main cause for complaint – the science party is in good spirits. Everyone is counting down the days until the Expedition weighs anchor.



Image Credits: Henk Brinkhuis (hotel room) and Sarah Lambart (quarantine buddies)

Mara Johnson-Groh is a science writer and photographer who covers everything under the Sun and even things beyond it.
More articles by: Mara

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