News / Science & Technology

US Government Shutdown Forces Closure of Antarctica Research Stations

Samantha Hansen and her team set up 15 seismic sensors in Antarctic’s Transantarctic Mountains to gather data on earthquakes. (Credit: Samantha Hansen)
Samantha Hansen and her team set up 15 seismic sensors in Antarctic’s Transantarctic Mountains to gather data on earthquakes. (Credit: Samantha Hansen)
TEXT SIZE - +
Rosanne Skirble
The U.S. government shutdown has reached the end of the Earth.

The National Science Foundation, which receives its budget from the federal government, announced that it will shut down its three stations in Antarctica.

This means research that would have been done during the summer season that began October 1 is now on hold. The loss could be both scientific and financial.

Cash flow

The National Science Foundation has run out of money. It cannot go forward without its proposed $465 million budget. In a statement on its website, the NSF announced, “all field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.”
A seismic station in the process of being installed. The large orange box contains about 200 kilograms worth of batteries, electronics to that help operate the station, which will be lowered into a hole. (Credit: Lindsey Kenyon)A seismic station in the process of being installed. The large orange box contains about 200 kilograms worth of batteries, electronics to that help operate the station, which will be lowered into a hole. (Credit: Lindsey Kenyon)
x
A seismic station in the process of being installed. The large orange box contains about 200 kilograms worth of batteries, electronics to that help operate the station, which will be lowered into a hole. (Credit: Lindsey Kenyon)
A seismic station in the process of being installed. The large orange box contains about 200 kilograms worth of batteries, electronics to that help operate the station, which will be lowered into a hole. (Credit: Lindsey Kenyon)


That is bad news for Samantha Hansen, assistant professor of geological sciences at the University of Alabama. Last year, her team deployed 15 seismic stations in an Antarctic mountain range to study earthquakes. She had planned to return this season to collect the data.   

“If we can’t get down there and if any of the stations are not operating as they should right now, if they have any problem, we’re not going to be able to fix them, because we can’t get there," Hansen said. "And if we can’t fix them, they are not going to run correctly into the upcoming year and we can potentially lose all of that officiated data.”  

Lost data and equipment

Hansen runs the risk of losing both the data and the costly equipment. Located in areas of high snowfall, the sensors would be completely buried and inaccessible by the time next season arrives.  

LISTEN: Shutdown Forces Closure of Antarctica Research Stations
US Government Shutdown Forces Closure of Antarctica Research Stations i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

“And obviously for the project, it would be a huge loss because we would basically have nothing to work on," she said. "So it’s kind of critical for us, both in terms of the data and taking care of the equipment and being able to work on our research projects of getting back there.”

Researchers in a wide variety of disciplines face that dilemma. Joanne Carney, who follows science policy as director of the Office of Government Relations for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says legislators' failure to reach an agreement has put an entire research season in limbo for hundreds of projects that can only be done in Antarctica's pristine environment.
    
“This impacts a whole host of disciplines from biological studies of animals like penguins, astronomical research as well as long-term research on climate change and weather,” Carney said.   

Starting from scratch

For these scientists, the shutdown is more than simply a temporary work stoppage.
Seismic installation near McMurdo Field Station shows solar panel, the top of the box peeking out, and the top of a dome that covers the seismometer. (Credit: Paul Carpenter)Seismic installation near McMurdo Field Station shows solar panel, the top of the box peeking out, and the top of a dome that covers the seismometer. (Credit: Paul Carpenter)
x
Seismic installation near McMurdo Field Station shows solar panel, the top of the box peeking out, and the top of a dome that covers the seismometer. (Credit: Paul Carpenter)
Seismic installation near McMurdo Field Station shows solar panel, the top of the box peeking out, and the top of a dome that covers the seismometer. (Credit: Paul Carpenter)
​“There are many areas of science that involve continuous monitoring and interpretation of scientific data, for example in climate change and weather, and so while policy makers in [Washington] DC may view the budget impasse as a hiatus, that doesn’t translate the same for science," she said. "For science it means throw away your research and start from scratch.”  

That's why scientists like Hansen are anxiously waiting for Congress to act. In its statement, however, the National Science Foundation cautioned, “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.”

Even so, Hansen remains somewhat optimistic.

“I think that there is a lot of hope that once the shutdown is resolved and budgetary issues get taken care of, they will salvage at least part of the field season and maybe we’ll still get to do what we want to do,” she said.

But the clock is ticking. The short Antarctic research season runs from October through February.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid