Nation & World News

Shutdown Forces Antarctic Research Into ‘Caretaker Status’

By Nell Greenfieldboyce on October 9th, 2013

Earlier this week we told you that scientists who do research in Antarctica have been on pins and needles, worried that the government shutdown would effectively cancel all of their planned field work this year.

Well, those scientists just got the news they didn’t want to hear.

Today, officials at the U.S. Antarctic Program posted a statement online saying they are moving to “caretaker” status at the three U.S. research stations, ships and other assets, and all research activities not essential to human safety and the preservation of property will be stopped.

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.

Most research in this remote, icy continent at the bottom of the world takes place from October to February, when it’s warmer and there’s enough daylight. Scientists who go down there depend on things like housing and transportation provided by the U.S. Antarctic Program. It supports three research stations, including one at the South Pole, that are staffed year-round.

Update at 6:44 p.m. ET. ‘Looking Pretty Bad:’

“Wow, it’s looking pretty bad right now. I was a lot more optimistic yesterday,” John Priscu, a Montana State University biologist who has been to Antarctica about thirty times, told us after he heard the news.

He says he was stunned by the announcement and was still trying to understand what this will mean both for his research and the entire field season down there. “I don’t think anybody really knows,” Priscu says.

“It’s a thing that’s never happened before,” says Peter Doran, a professor of Earth sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was scheduled to go to Antarctica later this year. “I’m still hoping that something will happen middle-of-the-month in Congress that will turn this around.”

But he says it’s a huge operation to fly people in and out of McMurdo Research Station, and plans can’t be made and unmade quickly.

“There’s things that really that they have to do. There are people still at the South Pole Station that have been there all winter. They need to get visited to have supplies refreshed. They need fuel, all that kind of stuff,” says Doran.

Research that could be affected includes biological studies of animals like penguins, as well as astrophysics and studies on the effects of climate change.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit

This entry was posted in News from NPR. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.


More Stories in News from NPR

Mars's massive Mount Sharp may have formed billions of years ago as water carried sand and silt into the center of a large crater.

NASA Rover Finds Evidence That Mars Once Had Lakes

A new study suggests the Red Planet had some blue on it about 3.5 billion years ago.

Chef Paul Prudhomme posed in the kitchen of a convention center in Jerusalem in 1996. He and 12 other chefs prepared a 12-course kosher feast as part of Jerusalem 3,000 celebrations.

Louisiana Chef Paul Prudhomme, Who Popularized Cajun And Creole Food, Dies

The internationally renowned chef sparked a cooking craze and inspired other New Orleans restaurateurs. He was 75.

A child is screened for leaked radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan's Fukushima prefecture on March 24, 2011.

Fukushima Study Links Children’s Cancer To Nuclear Accident

The study claims rates of thyroid cancer are high for children who lived near the tsunami-crippled nuclear plant in Japan. But other scientists are skeptical of the findings.

French President Francois Hollande shakes hands with U.S. Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone on Aug. 24 after Stone and two friends were awarded the French Legion of Honor for subduing a gunman on a Paris-bound train.

Hero In French Train Attack, Spencer Stone, Stabbed In California

Stone, one of three Americans who helped stop a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in August, is said to be in stable condition following the incident in Sacramento.

This 2011 photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Charles Warner. Warner was executed Thursday for the 1997 killing of his roommate's 11-month-old daughter.

Oklahoma Used The Wrong Drug To Execute Charles Warner

This is the second botched execution in a row for the state. Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack last year after a phlebotomist misplaced an IV line.

Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments