Tips from remote field researchers on life in isolation, tough environments

Emily Eidam’s view from the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Sikuliaq research vessel.
Courtesy/Emily Eidam.

Marine science researchers in Carolina’s College of Arts & Sciences have worked in many of the world’s most remote spaces: Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys, Alaskan glaciers and Arctic icebreaker research vessels.

The lessons researchers learned while working in cramped quarters and without the comforts of home may be helpful to people adjusting to life in COVID-19 quarantine.

Remember empathy and celebrate your small accomplishments

Eidam’s workspace in LeConte Bay, Alaska. Courtesy/Emily Eidam.

Associate Professor Emily Eidam has done a variety of field work as a seagoing oceanographer in remote parts of Vietnam, Alaska and the Arctic, and shared tips on empathy and celebrating victories.

Eidam says: “Usually on these trips I’m working with a small group of people that I haven’t met before, and it’s important to set aside your differences and focus on being supportive and gracious. The experience is what you make of it, and it will only go well if you are willing to be a good citizen in this new environment and new community.

“As a society we’re doing this with each other on a huge scale. We should be understanding of the fact that everyone is in a tough situation, we all are facing extra adversity, and it’s a chance to set aside hang-ups and be kind to each other.

“Give yourself a break, and make sure you’re getting a few things done every day. Call that your victory. In the field, some days are productive and you get a lot of data. Other days the ship engine might fail or storms keep you at anchor and you don’t get much done. It might not feel like progress at the time, but looking back when you add up every little thing you did each day, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come, and those are your victories.”

Find ways to have fun, stay active and explore safely

Hans Paerl in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. Courtesy/Hans Paerl.

Distinguished Professor Hans Paerl got involved in a National Science Foundation project in the 1990s that led him to Antarctica with a small research team. He spent months studying microbes in ice, and living in a single-person tent in temperatures as cold as -35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Paerl says: “Find something to entertain yourself. If you’re at all musically inclined, find an instrument. If you’re into art, photography, work on that – look for scenery and other subjects. Learn to focus on basic skills like writing or composing music if you’re interested in those.

“I brought my harmonica to Antarctica, and my colleague John brought his guitar. There isn’t much sound in Antarctica other than wind, so we would play blues music and we could hear the echoes going across the lake and bouncing back to us from the far away mountains. It was one of the most incredible things I experienced.

“Explore places near you safely. I would go for short hikes and look for stuff growing under rocks. I would take pictures in interesting places. In circumstances like Antarctica, or like what we’re living with today, you learn to enjoy being yourself in the context of being in a unique, even difficult, place and time.”

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