COVID-19 forces new approach to 2020 Polaris Project

Polaris Project 2019 students in the field.

2019 Polaris Project students in the field.

To ensure the safety of students, staff, and the communities in which we work, Woodwell Climate Research Center (formerly Woods Hole Research Center) is revamping this year’s Polaris Project to be primarily online and offering this year’s students a chance to make the trip to Alaska in 2021.

In a typical year, Polaris Project students, guided by Woodwell Climate scientists, spend two weeks investigating climate change impacts in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Students develop individual research questions related to permafrost thaw, wildfires, greenhouse gas emissions, and other climate impacts in the Arctic. After fieldwork in Alaska is complete, students then spend two more weeks at Woodwell’s Falmouth campus to analyze samples and process data, and prepare their findings to present to the scientific community.

Research area

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered daily operations at Woodwell Climate and many researchers’ plans for summer field work remain uncertain. In the case of the Polaris Project, the remoteness of the field site and the vulnerability of local communities were key factors in the decision to cancel this year’s expedition to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

All 2020 Polaris students will receive invitations to join the 2021 trip. The July visit to Woodwell Climate remains on the calendar for now, but staff will monitor and follow public health guidelines.

Despite the Alaska trip cancelation, Polaris faculty are committed to delivering an educational experience for this year’s students. Participants are being asked to make scientific observations in their own backyards or communities. They’ll also participate in a series of online discussions, with topics such as graduate school, current topics in Arctic research, indigenous knowledge, and diversity, equity and inclusion in the sciences.

“We value opportunities to engage with Polaris students beyond the field expedition – helping students apply to grad school and to fellowships, and working with them on presentations and publications. There’s a lot of continued involvement beyond the one-month field expedition, and that’s part of what makes Polaris so unique. We want to build the next generation of scientific leaders from a diversity of backgrounds to help solve our most pressing scientific and societal challenges,” said Dr. Sue Natali, Woodwell Associate Scientist and Arctic Program Director.

To support the Polaris Project, go to Woodwell’s contribution site and under “Gift Designations,” select “Arctic Research and Policy.”