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Outside/In: How is Science Being Affected by Covid-19?

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From seismology to the lives of lab animals, coronavirus is changing science in a variety of ways.

Field Work

Within animal research in North America, some fieldwork involving handling bats could be suspended because bats might be susceptible to the coronavirus. Sandi Houghton, wildlife diversity biologist at New Hampshire Fish and Game, wrote in an email that these concerns have not yet impacted any projects currently underway in New Hampshire.

"By the time bat work really gets going for the summer (typically mid-May to mid-August), we may have more clear guidance on if and how we can handle bats," wrote Katherine Ineson, PhD candidate at the University of New Hampshire. 

Meteorology

A lot of weather forecasting technology is automated, but meteorology is not totally immune. Some data sources have grown thinner, like information collected by airplanes on commercial flights.

"A model is only as good as the data going into it," said Ryan Breton, broadcast meteorologist with News Center Maine. "If the current weather isn't modeled correctly, then those errors can multiply days and days out."

Seismology

New Hampshire has already been hit by a number of weak earthquakes this year, but most people probably didn't notice them. But seismological instruments are very sensitive, and sometimes, while tuning into subtle rumbles of the Earth, they also accidentally pick up human activity. 

And as human industries slow down, the world is getting quieter.

"For distant earthquakes... if it's a 1.5 [magnitude] earthquake that's, say, 60 miles away, under normal conditions we might not be able to measure it, but now we can see it clearly in our record because of the lower level of noise," said Peggy Hellweg of the Berkeley Seismology Laboratory in California.

"One of the exciting things... is that we can look for things in the noise. We can discriminate between things that are repetitions of something, say this earthquake that was 60 miles away, and things that are random, like a truck driving by."

Lab Animals

As the coronavirus pandemic interrupts research, the implications for lab animals across the country has been significant, as journalist Kat Eschner wrote in an article for Popular Science.

"I talked to one monkey researcher whose experiments had to be halted prematurely," said Eschner, a contributing editor of Popular Science and author of the Quick Fox newsletter.

"The monkey itself is still living in the lab... and is being taken care of by technicians. A number of the lab technicians have been declared essential workers. So, in her case, the monkey's day-to-day life is a bit different, but nothing bad has happened to her monkey."

But as Eschner reported, a fairly significant number of animals have been culled, sometimes to reduce the load on the technician, and other times because the research was mid-way as the pandemic developed.

"Every case is different, because animals are different, research is different, where the research was at is different, so there's no 'one size fits all' answer to this question," said Eschner.

Molto Moleche

Then, we revisit an installment of "Eat the Invaders," our occasional segment on possible ways to mitigate invasive species. This time, we explore the example of the European green crab: it's invasive in the Atlantic, but Venetian fishermen have known, harvested, and eaten the "moleche" for generations.

Fried soft-shell green crabs, prepared specially for us by chef Brendan Vesey of Joinery restaurant.
Credit Logan Shannon

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This broadcast was produced by Sam Evans-Brown, Taylor Quimby, and Justine Paradis.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.

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