Shutdown: US Antarctica Research Program Closed This Year

Image: Shutdown: US Antarctica Research Program Closed This Year McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

Thursday, 10 Oct 2013 07:03 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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Scientists were worried that the government shutdown would affect the U.S. Antarctic Program, essentially cancelling millions of dollars of planned research in the world's polar regions, and now their worst fears have been confirmed.

The National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that the U.S. Antarctic Research Program would be closed for this year, and entered into "caretaker" status.

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"Under caretaker status, the USAP will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government property, including the three primary research stations, ships, and associated research facilities," NSF wrote in a statement on its website Tuesday. "All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended."

The closure of the U.S. Antarctic Program will have a wide ripple effect. Contractors will lose their jobs. Graduate students who need to complete field research may have to stay in school longer. Other countries like New Zealand, France, and Italy, which rely on the U.S.'s sea-ice runway at McMurdo Station, may not be able to continue their research, according to LiveScience.com.

Even if the government shutdown ended in the next few weeks, the research program would have missed the prime summer study season, which started Oct. 3.

"It makes the blood boil," Ross Powell, a geologist at Northern Illinois University, told LiveScience.com. Powell is the chief scientist of the WISSARD project, a $10 million drilling expedition that aims to discover life in a buried Antarctic lake.

"If we don't get this field season, basically, we've wasted half the money," he said.

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