Government Shutdown leaves Antarctic Research Operations in the cold
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced the suspension of all operations "not essential to the human safety and preservation of the property". This means that field and research activities will be wrapped up as the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) shifts into caretaker status.
Funds for the program will dry up on or about October 14, 2013 as a result of the absence of appropriation and the Antideficiency Act just as the 2013-2014 summer austral program would have begun. Because much of the USAP work is dependent upon seasonal windows of opportunity, it will not be possible to restart many science activities for the remainder of the season. Researchers typically study birds, climate, weather and more in the remote and harsh climate.
Typically the USAP Austral Summer Research Program receives grant proposals from all over the country from aspiring scientists wishing to conduct research on Antarctica during the continent’s warmest months. These grants are supported by the NSF and administered through the Office of Polar Programs. If an appropriation materializes soon the NSF will make every effort to restore the scheduled 2013-2014 programs to the extent possible.
Typically, about 200 people are flown in to begin preparations for the upcoming research season. The advance group has been preparing the influx of people who come in during the middle of October which is the beginning of the less cold season. Temperatures will only get to an average high of 30° F in the warmest month of the austral summer.
Published program categories for the austral summer include Antarctic Astrophysics and Geospace Sciences, Earth Sciences, Glaciology, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Organisms and Ecosystems and Integrated System Science. Additionally the Division of Polar Programs supports the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. There are typically about 4,000 people from all over the world researching on Antarctica during the austral summer. Most reside in one of three bases: McMurdo, Palmer and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The research wraps up in the beginning of February leaving behind a scant crew of 1,000 people before the daylight begins to dwindle and the temperatures drop to and average low of -40° F. F stands for "frigid".
Icebreaker ship on the ice in the sea photo via Shutterstock.