Government reopens, Antarctic research yet to thaw

Though Congress approved a deal to end the government shutdown last night, the effects of the shutdown are still being felt by researchers at the University and across the country who should be preparing for a trip to Antarctica.

The U.S. Antarctic Program, funded by the National Science Foundation, moved to “caretaker status” earlier this month as a result of the government shutdown.

Caretaker status means that the staff on the program was reduced to a minimum, only focusing on maintaining safety and government property.

According to a statement posted online by officials at the USAP, “all field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.”

Kevin Boatright, director of communications for the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, said that these research projects are affected, and some projects might not happen at all.

This research is especially vulnerable because research in Antarctica can only be done during the summer season between October and January.

“Time is precious,” Boatright said. “You don’t just get on a plane from Lawrence to Antarctica – it takes time to get there and get equipment there.”

Though Boatright said the researchers are hopeful now that the government is up and running it will allow their projects to resume, it will still take time for the NSF to prioritize projects and get things moving again.

David Braaten, the associate director of science of the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, said he is uncertain of what is next for the project he is working with, which measures ice sheets and how the change in ice sheets will affect sea level.

He said that it’s no longer possible for the CReSIS team to complete all of their research in Antarctica and that he hopes to complete at least a portion of what was originally planned.

“If we got 70 to 80 percent that would be really, really good,” Braaten said. “When the government opens back up, and things start to move again, it might still be another week or so before we find out who’s going to get to go.”

Because of the uncertainty of the timeline, Braaten and the CReSIS team haven’t made decisions on where they will curtail their research or how they will proceed.

Another unpredictable factor prevents them from making those decisions early – the weather.

“Not having as many days makes it more risky for everything,” Braaten said.

The project was already underway and equipment was in the process of being sent to the site, but the researchers were set to arrive in mid-November.

Braaten and his colleagues weren’t expecting it to affect their research, but without an approved budget, the NSF was forced to halt funding.

“It’s such a colossal waste of money,” Braaten said. “You’re committing to lots of resources and lots of people and all that gets wasted.”

The government shutdown came at the worst time for Antarctic research, Braaten said.

“If this becomes a common thing is this country, it’ll destroy Antarctic research,” Braaten said. “So that’s a little scary.”

  • Updated Oct. 17, 2013 at 8:45 pm
  • Edited by Sarah Kramer
  • Eric

    “The government shutdown came at the worst time for Antarctic research, Braaten said.”

    Edited- The government shutdown.

  • Dianne Kirby

    We absolutely NEED this kind of research to be ongoing. It is how we will know the immediate and long term effects of global warming, as well as answers to other important scientific questions.