Impact of Coronavirus Is Felt on an Arctic Science Expedition

The coronavirus outbreak has now had an impact on a large climate research expedition in the frozen Arctic Ocean.

While the scientists and crew aboard a German ship that is near the North Pole after drifting with the ice since October are unaffected, one member of a team scheduled to fly research missions as part of the expedition has tested positive for the virus in Germany.

As a result, the flights, which were set to begin from Longyearbyen in northern Norway this month, have been delayed, said Matthew Shupe, a research scientist at the University of Colorado who is a co-coordinator of the expedition, known as Mosaic.

“There was one person who tested positive” from a team of about 20 people, Dr. Shupe said, and that person had been interacting with the others. “Those people are all being quarantined to see how that evolves.”

The positive test and the decision to quarantine team members in their homes in Germany were first reported by Nature.com.

Assuming the people clear quarantine and do not test positive themselves, “then the plan is to carry forward with the activities,” Dr. Shupe said, although final decisions will be made by the medical staff of the Alfred Wegener Institute, the German research organization that is the organizer of the international expedition.

Mosaic, shorthand for Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate, uses the German ship, the 400-foot icebreaker Polarstern, as its base as teams of researchers and technicians study conditions in the remote Central Arctic. The teams are replaced every two months. Dr. Shupe was on the first leg of the expedition in the fall.

The airborne missions are intended to complement the on-the-ice research. They involve flying across stretches of the Arctic in the institute’s planes, which carry instruments for measuring ice thickness, clouds and other characteristics of the atmosphere.

Some of the flights are scheduled to land on an ice runway built near the ship. Dr. Shupe said “there are some decisions yet to be made” as to whether the landings will occur. “We don’t want any exposure out there at the Polarstern,” he said. A viral disease like Covid-19 could quickly spread through the confined quarters of the ship, which has about 100 people on board at a time.

A second separate airborne component of the expedition, the transfer of supplies and new researchers to the ship beginning in April, is being provided by a Russian company, Utair. “That part, so far, is on target,” Dr. Shupe said.

Dr. Shupe said his days recently have been consumed by the coronavirus outbreak and the need to get tests for anyone who will be taking part in the expedition in the coming months. The expedition requires that people be tested two weeks before leaving and again immediately before departing as well.

But that has caused problems for researchers in the United States, Dr. Shupe said, because of the testing rules set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“You can’t get a test unless you have symptoms,” he said, referring to American participants. There is no indication that most of those taking part in Mosaic have even been exposed to the virus.

Dr. Shupe said he has had to obtain testing kits from Germany, which will be analyzed in Germany as well. He is among those being tested, he said, because although he is not scheduled to be back on the Polarstern until the last leg of the expedition this summer, he is an alternate for the preceding legs. So he has to be ready to go if anyone tests positive for the virus.