Antarctic Science Next Casualty of Capitol Hill Standoff

Antarctic science next casualty of Capitol Hill standoff
With the government shutdown seeing no signs of ending soon, Antarctic research projects are next in line to suffer from the political infighting in Washington

With the government shutdown now heading towards day 13, the list of casualties seems ever-expanding. Thousands of government employees have been furloughed. From a scientific standpoint, Congress’ indecision over the latest budget has affected national health institutions, grant applications and disease monitoring, whilst a number of scientific research projects and clinical trials have also been shelved. Next in line to suffer, from the standoff on Capitol Hill, are the many scientists involved in Antarctic research.

Antarctic Science Shutdown

As was reported on Oct. 8, the entire U.S. Antarctic research program will be placed on ice for this year, owing to the ongoing shutdown. The National Science Foundation (NSF) explained that employees, based at three United States science stations throughout the Antarctic, would be dispatched back home; it was reported that a small contingent would remain to maintain the buildings and equipment.

The New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully talks about the shutdown, stating that a number of research studies would be delayed until the following year. In the interim, until Obama can end the stalemate with the Republicans, McCully explains that existing Antarctic research work, including collaborative projects with other countries, would be placed on hold.

According to the International Business Times, New Zealand scientists, located in Scott base, have reservations over how the shutdown is likely to influence outstanding and future research projects. New Zealand scientists have already offered to assume control of the various projects, until such a time as American researchers can continue their work.

Many Antarctic researchers are now flying back home
Antarctic scientists are being called back home, in response to the government shutdown, placing vast numbers of research projects in jeopardy

In the meantime, U.S. scientists are currently in the process of being shipped back from the Antarctic, to either New Zealand or Chile, before returning to the United States. Speaking to LiveScience, NSF spokesperson Judith Gan was unable to speculate on exactly how many people would be making the return trip home, or at what cost.

The shutdown is also reported to impact upon the research efforts of other countries, including France, Italy and New Zealand, who are reliant upon the ice runway at McMurdo station.

The NSF states they would endeavor to resume scientific research programs after the government shutdown subsides; unfortunately, this will be too late for many within the community, who have missed their window for the Antarctic research season, which began Oct. 3.

Antarctic Bases in “Caretaker Mode”

McMurdo Station has been shuttered
McMurdo Station has been put into “caretaker mode,” until the government shutdown can be amicably resolved

With a small skeleton crew remaining in the Antarctic bases, stations like McMurdo are now entering “caretaker mode.” In essence, only critical operations will continue, and scientific research will stop.

According to Hubert Staudigel, who works at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a whole season of research is likely to be abandoned. The harsh weather conditions of the region imposes tight deadlines upon research teams. Alas, the shutdown has arrived at precisely the wrong time, commencing at the start of the Antarctic summer. As all research must be conducted within a three month time slot, the shutdown continues to eat away at vital research time.

Speaking to Huffington Post, Staudigel briefly elaborates on this point:

“You can get everybody home in two weeks… but then you can’t just get started again.”

Antarctic ice melt will no longer be monitored, research into Antarctic lakes have been thwarted, climate and ocean studies have been thrown into disarray, and seal tagging will not be performed for this year.

Henry Kaiser, who has spent many seasons working in the Antarctic, and has formed a number of relationships with many researchers from the scientific community, explained the disastrous consequences of losing even a single year from multi-year studies. Scientists spend years planning and preparing their expeditions and research experiments. As these scientists, and their students, rely upon the success of these experiments to sustain their careers, it is theorized that some will be forced to depart these research fields.

Scientific Institutions Go Dark

Congress has a key responsibility in the constitution – to pass spending bills to fund the government. This is a responsibility that congress failed to uphold, with the House Republicans using the government shutdown to negotiate changes to the health care law.

This situation has resulted in hundreds of thousands of government employees being placed into unpaid furlough. Many national parks, federally-run wildlife refuges, museums and monuments have closed, whilst numerous scientific research programs have been paralyzed.

Ghost towns are now common across biomedical research facilities, such as the National Institute of Health, whilst the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lumbers

Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia
Green Bank Telescope, in West Virginia, is one of the many U.S. radio telescopes to have been temporarily shutdown

on in an ineffectual capacity, woefully understaffed to handle the latest Salmonella outbreak that has swept across the country; and, with the flu season looming on the horizon, further complications await.

In addition, around half of all workers at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Food and Drug Administration have been furloughed. 95 percent of employees working for the Environmental Protection Agency are completely idle, and many from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have also suffered the same fate.

The space agency, NASA, has canceled a number of events, with early research programs stalled, and the organization’s website no longer accessible. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has shuttered a number of facilities across North America, including Green Bank Telescope, in West Virginia, and the VLA and VLBA telescopes of New Mexico.

Meanwhile, as the scientific community goes dark, members of Congress continue to receive payment.

By: James Fenner

Related Articles:

US Radio Telescopes Victims of Government Shutdown

Channels the Height of the Eiffel Tower Found Within Antarctic Ice

Gene Shuffling Microbes Dominate Lake of Antarctica

Antarctica Sea Ice Reaches Record High: Doesn’t Refute Global Warming

Signs of Ancient Life Stirring in Antarctic Lake


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Huffington Post

International Business Times

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16 Responses to "Antarctic Science Next Casualty of Capitol Hill Standoff"

  1. Mr. Rios   October 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    While Politicians milk the ignorant, including Al Gore’s 300 Million….. Life will continue to exist whether we have ice on the refrigerator or not. The earth is a living planet. The inner core is roughly about 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit. There are 79 tectonic plaques (7 Primary/7Secondary/65 smaller). We live on the earth’s lithosphere on top of the thin crust of our planet. The Earth is about 5 Billion years old, Life started about 3.6 Billion years ago, and the Polar Caps formed relatively recently about 34 million years ago.

  2. Cherry Popping   October 13, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Government workers are on vacation… soooo….what about the millions of unemployed who have no job…..

    • Juli8   October 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      You can not equate this to being on vacation….Sorry. I was unemployed for many months due to the layoff’s during the banking crisis of 2008. This is a different deal altogether. I found a job thanks to pulling together with my fellow man and some ingenuity. Maybe we should try some of that now.

  3. bobn8r   October 13, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    If you don’t believe in science, you obviously don’t need it. Climate change happens every day, why worry about it. Although the space program virtually created your cell phone electronics, Steve Jobs would have undoubtedly figured it out. ( If you know who Steve Jobs was) If you live in a cave and live off the land, you don’t need government. You don’t need police, firefighters, paved roads, healthy food, or cures for the diseased brain you have. You don’t drive on roads; you kill and inspect your own game, you defend your hunting territory with your AR-15, which you’ve probably modified it to function fully automatic. (No police, remember?), You’d ruin your kill with a tactical weapon, so you have a normal hunting carbine for that. I have no hope for your brain. There are lots of nonessential things in life. I think I just read a comment from one of them. Worthlessness is not next to Godliness.

  4. JT   October 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Jeff must live in a gated community…even though he can’t spell or make a coherent comment. What these (to steal a “conservative” term) pinheads don’t understand is that it will cost twice as much to recover from all this…and the private sector, from t-shirt vendor in the national parks to the crab fishermen in Alaska, is getting creamed,
    I agree that the debt is too big and that we need to have budget cutting, but the current process is like having an ingrown toenail removed by cutting off your foot!

  5. Scott Bartell   October 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    No, scientific research isn’t essential–it just allows us to understand our world, helps us make better decisions, and generally improves our lives.

  6. Jeff   October 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    The sky is falling….no, in fact to us average Americans, if it weren’t for the media hype, you wOuldnt know there was a shout down. Just shows you how non-essential those non-essentials govt employees really are.

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