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)
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 Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid