Shutdown Hits Antarctic Research

U.S. Program in 'caretaker status'

McMurdo Station Antartica Icebreakers Snow

THe M/V American Tern being led by the Russian icebreaker Krasin to McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze 2006. Mount Erebus can be seen in the background.     Photo: Kappa Pi SIgma/Wikimedia

The ripple effect from the government shutdown in Washington D.C. is now being felt more than 9,900 miles away at the South Pole. 

The U.S. Antarctic Program effectively announced that research trips to Antartica have been canceled until further notice. On October 14, funds for this program will run dry until a federal budget is approved by Congress. As of Monday morning, ships and research stations used by scientists throughout the U.S. will go on "caretaker status." Icebreakers and airplanes will only be running food, fuel, and supplies for those already at the three research stations, which are staffed year-round. But future trips to the icey Antartic are currently on haitus and possible scuttled, National Public Radio reports.

"In Antarctica the planning is so intense. I mean, we're scheduling Department of Defense aircraft and icebreakers," John Priscu, a Montana State University biologist with about 30 trips to Antarctica, told NPR. "The planning goes on years ahead. I don't think you can just throw a switch and say, 'OK, we're better now.'"

The announcement couldn't come at a worst time for U.S. scientists since the research season in Antartica starts in October and last through February, when its summer on the icy continent. Lapses in research can jeopardize decades of work, and studies in antartic biology, astrophysic and climate change could be affected.

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