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U.S. Will Suspend Antarctic Program, Major Construction Projects if Shutdown Lingers

8 October 2013 6:30 pm
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National Science Foundation/Peter Rejcek

Deep freeze. The United States will have to suspend its research activities in Antarctica, such as this C-17 Air Force cargo jet landing at McMurdo Station in 2011, if the U.S. government shutdown continues through 14 October.

Confirming earlier press reports, the National Science Foundation (NSF) today said that it will have to close its research programs in Antarctica if the U.S. government shutdown continues beyond 14 October. “All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended,” the agency said in a statement. “[F]unds for [the program] will be depleted on or about October 14, 2013.”

In a separate development, NSF has informed researchers that it will have to suspend work on several major construction projects if the shutdown continues beyond 31 October. Included on that list are a solar telescope, a gravity wave observatory, and ecological and ocean-observing networks.

In Antarctica, NSF helps support three stations and numerous scientific facilities at those locations. It also coordinates ships and aircraft that move people and supplies and helps U.S. researchers set up short-term field stations. The busiest part of the Antarctic research season begins this month and runs through February. For the 2014 fiscal year, which began on 1 October, NSF had requested $465 million to support its polar programs, including work in Antarctica.

But Congress could not agree on 2014 funding, causing the partial shutdown that is now in its second week. While most NSF activities were immediately suspended, and nearly all of its staff furloughed, the polar and construction programs had some leeway to continue operating using 2013 funds already appropriated but not yet spent. But the clock is now winding down, NSF says.

Here is the agency’s statement on its Antarctic program:

Planning and Implementation of Caretaker Status for U.S. Antarctic Program

October 8, 2013

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is responsible for managing and coordinating the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) on behalf of the nation. This includes providing support personnel and facilities and coordinating transportation and other logistics for scientific research.  Due to the lapse in appropriation, funds for this support will be depleted on or about October 14, 2013.

Without additional funding, NSF has directed its Antarctic support contractor to begin planning and implementing caretaker status for research stations, ships and other assets.  The agency is required to take this step as a result of the absence of appropriation and the Antideficiency Act.

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.  All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.

As NSF moves to caretaker status, it will also develop the information needed to restore the 2013-14 austral summer research program to the maximum extent possible, once an appropriation materializes.  It is important to note, however, that some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed, the seasonal workforce is released, science activities are curtailed and operations are reduced.

NSF remains committed to protecting the safety and health of its deployed personnel and to its stewardship of the USAP under these challenging circumstances.

You can see our complete shutdown coverage here.