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U.S. Antarctic research victim of shutdown; losses are irreplaceable

October 09, 2013|By Amy Hubbard
  • Staff at McMurdo Naval Base in the Antarctic will be reduced as field research is suspended because of the government shutdown.
Staff at McMurdo Naval Base in the Antarctic will be reduced as field research… (THiNKFilm )

The U.S. Antarctic research program is another casualty of the government shutdown, and scientists are fuming. 

The development would scrap an entire season of research for some scientists. It "makes the blood boil," says Ross Powell, lead scientist for the  WISSARD drilling expedition. He told Live Science that $5 million in research investment could go down the drain.

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The National Science Foundation made the announcement Tuesday, recalling scientists and staff from Antarctica and placing the U.S. program in "caretaker status." Minimal staff will be maintained at primary research facilities, including the McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott and Palmer stations, but "all field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended."

The NSF noted that, although it would aim to restore the summer field research when possible, some activities just can't be restarted once  "seasonally dependent windows" for research have passed.

In other words, scientists, you're probably out of luck. As Nature reports, a 20-year census of Adelie penguins could be useless with the glaring omission of one year. A year of observations will be "gone forever," frustrated oceanographer Hugh Ducklow told the news outlet.

Powell and WISSARD colleagues had planned to search for a hidden estuary beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, a $10-million investment by the NSF. Without this field season, he told Live Science, "we've  wasted half the money."

Meanwhile, the shutdown is squeezing scientists across the board. About three-quarters of the  National Institutes of Health  staff are on furlough; the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control has lost two-thirds of its staff -- and the FDA nearly half -- even as a salmonella outbreak erupts; and NASA is operating on a skeleton staff, with 97% of employees furloughed. The MAVEN mission to Mars will, however, go on as scheduled.

Mission Control in Houston is continuing operations enough to provide company -- and safety reassurance -- for those now aboard the International Space Station.  For fans of the ISS, here's a photo gallery of the crew and pictures they sent back during the first three ISS expeditions.

ALSO:

USC's Arieh Warshel  among Nobel winners

Antarctica penguins thrived during Little Ice Age

Here's why penguins abandoned flight, went underwater

d flight, went underwater

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