How COVID-19 Is Impacting the NERACOOS Observing Network

Springtime’s longer days and better weather usually herald a frenzy of activity, yet here we are, stuck in a pandemic Twilight Zone--not to mention, where’s the better weather? If it were any other year, the routine tasks that keep our ocean observing system up and running would be going off without a hitch; nothing, however, is exempt from the influence of COVID-19, including our ability to provide real-time, dependable ocean data. 

NERACOOS’ system operators are currently limited in their capacity to service and deploy monitoring equipment, which in turn is affecting the quality of information available on the NERACOOS website. As with most industries, personnel who can work from home are doing so (including NERACOOS staff), but there are many jobs that can’t be performed while the current restrictions remain in place. 

Some buoys that were removed for the winter have yet to be redeployed and at-sea maintenance visits are on hold because key research vessels are also under stay-at-home orders. According to the Physical Oceanography Group at the University of Maine, operator of seven NERACOOS buoys, data reliability may decline until repair teams can make it out. The University of Connecticut also reports that routine service visits to the Long Island Sound buoys have been delayed; the result is an interruption in vital long-term data series at the most critical time of the year. 

Docked research vessels also means that ship research cruise schedules have been scrambled. A survey for the NERACOOS/NROC Integrated Sentinel Monitoring Network, which became part of the Marine Biodiversity Observing Network project portfolio in 2019, was slated to begin in mid-May and is now postponed indefinitely. A condensed 2020 fieldwork season could mean that some projects will be pushed forward an entire calendar year. 

Clearly our problems don’t start and end in our backyard; there are delays throughout the entire supply chain. For example, Sea-Bird Scientific, a company that manufactures and services many of the sensors with which buoys are outfitted, is also reporting long repair turnaround times. 

The seriousness of these issues weighs heavily on us and our system operators. We’re keenly aware of the importance of our regional observing network, and understand that for some of our stakeholders, less data equate to more risk, not only inconvenience.

As the world begins to reopen and normal operations resume (or if they don’t, and this remains our “new normal”), we will continue to update you on the status of the NERACOOS observing network. Thank you for your patience and kindness during this trying time. 

If you have questions or pressing concerns, please contact Tom Shyka or Julianna Mullen