• Catie Thow

Science Inside

Resources for science and hope during this trying time

It is a bright and sunny February day as my coworker and I paddle a canoe down Hill Slough in Suisun Marsh. We do this every month for my master’s degree research studying phytoplankton in sloughs. Normally, our paddle is quiet and relaxing, especially this time of year when late winter temperatures are quite agreeable. We can hear the call of kingfishers, the mooing of grazing cattle nearby, and the occasional passing of military aircraft flying to or from Travis Airforce Base. But this month is a little different, a little louder. There are military aircraft- constantly flying overhead transporting some of the first victims of COVID-19 back to the U.S.. At the time, we had no idea that this would be our last paddle for the predictable future. And, my last sample documenting winter phytoplankton in Hill Slough, an important slough for my research.


At the same time, I am remiss about all these missed scientific opportunities not taking place because of COVID-19. My fellow classmates are missing the spring movement of humpback whales and the spring recruitment of oysters in the Bay. Fast forward one and half months and I am sitting in my living room attempting to remain positive when thinking about the future of my master’s degree research. As a 20-something I instinctively went to Google science still happening during this bleak time, and to my surprise I have found a lot of resources in the Bay Area and nationally. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me,--evolutionary theory dictates that species will adapt to benefit their well-being and, well, we’ve definitely started to adapt! Listed below are some adaptations of scientific resources I have found positively uplifting.


Workshops and Seminars

  • NOAA has recently made their daily/week seminars and workshops virtual and open to the public. Check it out here and gain access to everything from science engagement to how to’s on satellite data management.

Citizen science: science you can do from home

  • Do you have a shady backyard where you’ve got some mushrooms growing? Maybe you want to identify the mushrooms and track their spring progress. Register as a citizen scientist here to start!

  • Each year iNaturalist hosts an international City Nature Challenge which takes place during Earth Day, sign up here to document any urban flora or fauna you can find while on your neighborhood walks or in your backyard.

Science camps: virtual weekly science for kids

  • Does your child miss searching around tide pools during this time? No problem, you can sign up for weekly marine biology field camp through Oceans Initiative by live streaming for free every Monday and Thursday on @OceansInitative on Facebook or Instagram. More information here.






Virtual tours: museums, nature preserves, and live streams

  • Many museums are now offering virtual tours. Take advantage of some and stimulate both left and right sides of your brain! Exploratorium (with my personal favorite, “Plankton Population Exhibit”), and National Natural History Museum 4K dinosaur tour.

  • Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve virtual walkabouts and virtual fieldtrips can be found here. Make some observations of tides, flora and fauna while you do so to keep you engaged.

  • Ever wonder what you can see from the International Space Station? Find out here and watch the sunrise and sunset every 90 minutes. Or visit coral reefs with the California Academy of Science live animal webcams here.

Science Social Media

  • @LizNeely, the Executive Director of @StoryCollider and fantastic science communicator is a great way to get your feet wet into marine science and general science communication.

  • @Tessa_M_Hill, Professor of marine biology at UC Davis focuses on the impact of climate change of marine organisms. She even has virtual tide pooling tweets!

  • @DivaAmon, deep sea biologist is #careergoals. If the Planet Earth deep sea episode is your favorite, like me, be sure to give her a follow.



As our new reality sets in, these resources, and some adaptation on my end, have allowed me to rethink my own thesis research. While I may not be paddling down Hill Slough any time soon, I am able to analyze other data sets collected in nearby sloughs which will ultimately help me understand the system as a whole. As an abutting interdisciplinary estuarine scientist this excites me and opens my eyes to a new level of thinking. Though analyzing someone else's dataset might not be as alluring as field research of my own, I have found solace in it. I have learned that I like my adaptations and enjoy my new research. In fact, the idea of ecosystem-wide thinking is what drove me to graduate school in the first place. Now, while sitting in my pajamas in my living room, I am teaching myself some skills I previously lacked. So, I guess I could say this whole epidemic has taught me many things, but most importantly it has taught me to adapt, just like the ecosystems I study. But...I am still hoping to paddle down Hill Slough again someday.


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