Sunday, October 6, 2013

US Antarctic research season is in jeopardy, thanks to government shutdown

Lauren Morello in Scientific American via Nature: The National Science Foundation (NSF) is likely to cancel the US Antarctic program’s upcoming field season if the US government shutdown persists through mid-October—jeopardizing hundreds of scientists’ work in glaciology, ecology and astrophysics.

The agency has kept its three Antarctic research stations open during the initial days of the shutdown, which began on October 1, under rules designed to protect human lives and US government property. But Lockheed Martin, the contractor that runs the NSF’s Antarctic operations, has told researchers that it will run out of money by mid-October.

At that point, the company would be forced to evacuate all but a skeleton staff from McMurdo, Amundsen–Scott and Palmer stations. And that would spell the end to this year’s research season, which normally runs from October to February.

Research casualties"We are in a major planning mode to begin an orderly transition to caretaker mode at the stations," a Lockheed official wrote in an October 4 e-mail to researchers. "A decision will be made early next week." A spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin’s Antarctic operations, based in Denver, Colo., declined to comment on the matter, and officials at the NSF—where some 98.5 percent of employees have been ordered to stay home until the shutdown ends—did not respond to Nature’s requests for comment....

McMurdo Station, shot by Eli Duke, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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