Politics
1:52 pm
Wed October 16, 2013

Government Shutdown Freezes UT Research Projects in Antarctica

Science is another casualty of the federal government shutdown. But for Antarctic scientists the effects will linger even after the Congressional impasse is resolved.

University of Texas research associate and Antarctic geologist Joseph Levy was supposed to get on a plane Thursday headed south for the third and final year of a study about ancient ice.

But last week he was told to cancel his plans because of a lack of funding, and he says the government shutdown could jeopardize time sensitive scientific research.

“Everyone who’s scheduled to do work this year, which is over a hundred science teams and several hundred scientists altogether, are now cooling their heels waiting for Congress to appropriate money to allow science to move forward,” Levy says.

He is studying ice in the McMurdo Dry Valleys that is up to 20,000 years old. The research offers insight into the ancient atmosphere and climate change, but he can only collect data during the short-lived Antarctic spring that is starting now. If he doesn’t get down there soon, the study could be severely crippled.

Losing one year out of a three year study is a “tremendous loss,” he says, though if given the opportunity he will head to Antarctica at a moment’s notice.

Even if they can’t collect all the data they were hoping, his team would try to try and recover the equipment that has been recording data over the past months.

His study is just one of many threatened by the government shutdown, according to a New York Times article.

Some 3,000 Americans work through the Antarctic summer, including scientists and support staff from the private sector and from federal agencies like the Defense and Energy Departments, NASA and the United States Geological Survey. Amid the battle over the country’s spending and debt limit, the National Science Foundation, which coordinates the Antarctic program, has ordered it into “caretaker status,” which means skeleton staffing. “All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended,” the agency said in a statement last week.

While the agency said it would do what it could to restore the program “once an appropriation materializes,” it noted coolly that “some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed, the seasonal work force is released, science activities are curtailed and operations are reduced.”

Levy, however, is still hopeful that the shutdown will end soon, and he's ready to go at a moment's notice.