January 21, 2020

Planning And Conducting Field Campaigns Abroad – Tips And Tricks

Posted by AGU Career Center

Planning and conducting field work campaigns in new study areas abroad can be challenging. In October 2019, we conducted an extensive field season in tropical West Sumatra within the framework of our project “The impact of precipitation changes on terrigenous sediment export to the Indian Ocean” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). This is our research group’s first project in Indonesia. There are a lot of logistical needs to meet in such intense and prolonged field campaigns. Our project involved various types of measurements in various field sites; importing equipment from Germany to Indonesia; exporting data, sediment samples and equipment back to Germany, the employment of technical equipment from our partner university (Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta/Java), and the involvement of Indonesian partners in on-site field work.

Researchers shooting electrical resistivity ground images on West Sumatra

Shooting electrical resistivity ground images on West Sumatra with researchers from the Berlin and Potsdam, Germany, and Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The team from left to right: Suhari Suhari, Geophysics, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Sarah Mosser, Freie Universität Berlin, Abdel Hafiz, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Gayatri Indah Marliyani, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Stefanie Tofelde, Universität Potsdam, and Anne Bernhardt, Freie Universität Berlin.

Based on our experiences, we’ve come up with seven essential topics to tackle when planning a field campaign in a new study area abroad. Following these guidelines when preparing your field campaign in a novel study area abroad may help ensure that surprises during field work remain positive ones related to new and exciting data!

  1. Search for a suitable cooperation partner from a university or a research institute in the target country. This is simply the key to success. Nothing is more helpful than a local fellow researcher, maybe even with similar or complementary research interests, who knows the local field conditions, language, customs and bureaucracy. Spend time and effort establishing strong relationships to the local scientific community; it will pay off in inspiring collaborations and smooth field work planning. Interinstitutional Agreements such as a “Memorandum of Understanding” and a “Material Transfer Agreement” between the partner and your home institution can help formalize the process.
  2. Plan for sufficient time to acquire necessary paperwork including the appropriate visa, research permits, permits to import equipment and export samples, permits to work in National Parks, to fly drones for scientific purposes, etc. The acquisition process may take several months! Your local cooperation partner will be of great help here.
  3. Plan for funding to support your local cooperation partners during joint field work.
  4. Plan on how you will get around in a region. Can you just rent a car, or should you find a company with a driver? How are the road conditions? Where can you go and how long will it take you? The proper preparation (including downloading and printing maps and satellite images, marking potential targets, and downloading helpful apps on your field tablet) can make your time in the field more productive.
  5. Get in touch with the local authorities and seek their permission to work in their communities. Along the same lines, be mindful of landowners and always get their permission prior to setting food on their land.
  6. Be respectful to local cultures and adapt to habits where appropriate. Dress and behave according to local etiquette.
  7. Be mindful of the needs of your local field partners. For example, Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population on Earth. Field work planning needs to include halal nutrition and breaks for everyday and Friday prayers.

These tips were integral to the success of our research. During our field season, we measured sub bottom profiles using electrical resistivity ground imaging, a shallow geophysical technique that rapidly produces high-resolution profiles of the shallow subsurface under most field conditions. Our target was to quantify the geometry and distribution of Holocene fluvial channel bodies in the subsurface. This field campaign will be followed by an extensive sediment coring campaign in the spring of 2020.

Anne Bernhardt, Freie Universität Berlin (FUB), Gayatri Indah Marliyani, Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), Sarah Mosser, Freie Universität Berlin (FUB), and Stefanie Tofelde, Universität Potsdam