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SCAR XXXVI Paper 35: Antarctic COVID-19 Project - Final Report Popular

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SCAR XXXVI Paper 35: Antarctic COVID-19 Project - Final Report

SCAR XXXVI Delegates Meeting, Online, 16-25 March 2021

SCAR XXXVI Paper 35: Antarctic COVID-19 Project - Final Report

Agenda Item: 9.1
Person Responsible: Daniela Liggett

 Authors: Daniela Liggett (New Zealand), Andrea Herbert (New Zealand)



In late 2020 (30 September to 21 November), an online survey was distributed to Antarctic researchers as part of an international and interdisciplinary research project (“The impacts of COVID-19 on Antarctica”) led by Dr Daniela Liggett and Dr Andrea Herbert and supported by SCAR1. The aim of the survey was to determine (1) how the pandemic had affected Antarctic scientists professionally and personally, and (2) what SCAR could do to support the Antarctic research community.

Distributed via some of the key global Antarctic networks (SCAR, COMNAP, APECS, Polarpol and researchers’ personal Antarctica-related networks), the survey was completed in full, or partially, by 406 respondents from all continents, albeit with a strong representation from English-speaking countries (with 37% of respondents originating from the USA, UK, New Zealand or Australia). Efforts to boost non-Western participation by translating the survey into Spanish, Mandarin and Russian did not lead to a significant increase in response rates among Spanish-, Mandarin- or Russian-speaking Antarctic researchers.

Respondents identified as life scientists (38%), geoscientists (30%), physical scientists (10%), social scientists/humanities scholars (8%), or individuals working in Antarctic management (4%), logistics and operations (3%), or governance (1%)3 . Nearly half of respondents identified as early-career researchers (ECRs), which was defined in the survey to include research students or those within five years of finishing their PhD, excluding career breaks. 51% of respondents hold a permanent full-time position.

On average, around a third of participants (32%) reported that the pandemic had a significant or extreme negative impact on their mental wellbeing, while 23% reported no negative impact, and the rest fall between these two extremes. Despite additional stress arising from governments’ responses to COVID-19, some benefits of travel restrictions and various levels of lockdown/stay-home orders were perceived by our survey respondents. In fact, around half of participants (52%) were able to identify some form of positive impact of the pandemic on their lives. Examples cited included working from home, attending online conferences, or completing online trainings.

The survey results make clear that the impacts of the pandemic are distributed unequally among Antarctic scientists. Studies across disciplines and countries on the impact of COVID-19 on scientists report a disproportionate impact on women, especially those with caregiving responsibilities, and on ECRs. Our survey confirms these trends for Antarctic researchers. Too few participants from countries with developing Antarctic programmes completed the survey to allow for an educated assessment of how these countries’ Antarctic communities have been impacted by the pandemic.

Survey respondents considered a range of measures to be the most helpful with regard to how SCAR could support those impacted by the pandemic. They fall into five broader categories: (1) Access to additional funding and fellowship opportunities; (2) the facilitation of international collaboration and data-sharing arrangements; (3) the continued offer of access to conferences and workshops online, and (4) emphasising the strategic importance of Antarctic research across all disciplines and its role in capacity development; and (5) consideration of the pandemic’s unequal impacts across the Antarctic research community and active accommodation of disadvantaged community members.