Shutdown Kills US Antarctic Research Projects

The government shutdown effectively killed several US Antarctic research projects, frustrating scientists who were looking forward to an entire season of research.

Ross Powell, lead science for the WISSARD drilling expedition, explained that $5 million in research investment could be lost because of the shutdown.

Powell explained that many scientists are fuming and it “makes the blood boil” knowing they won’t be able to complete the valuable projects. The Los Angeles Times notes that the National Science Foundation made the announcement on Tuesday.

While the shutdown is in place, US Antarctic projects will be placed in “caretaker status” and scientists and staff are being recalled from their icy research stations. Minimal staff will stay in place at primary facilities, including the McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott, and Palmer research stations.

However, the NSF explained that “all field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.” There are several consequences for the decision to halt Antarctic research because of the government shutdown, notes Fox News.

Among those are that graduate students may have to stay in school longer because they didn’t get enough data to complete their research. Contractors are also losing their jobs and other countries who rely on McMurdo’s sea-ice runway may not be able to conduct their own research. Affected countries include New Zealand, France, and Italy.

The NSF stated that it will work with scientists to restart activities after the shutdown ends. However, many US scientists will still miss the timing window for their summer research session, which began on October 3. Powell and his colleagues were planning on drilling the spot where the Whillians Ice Stream meets the Sea.

The NSF invested $10 million into the project, which is aimed at seeing if water flows from the buried Lake Whillians into the ocean under the Ross Ice Shelf. Powell explained, “If we don’t get this field season, basically, we’ve wasted half the money.” NASA’s Operation IceBridge, which tracks yearly changes in polar ice, will also be affected by the shutdown of US research in the Antarctic.

[Image by Jose Lopez via Wikimedia Commons]