Antarctic research

Stacy Kim, National Science FoundationNothing to see here, folks. Y’all can just stay home this year.

It’s springtime at the South Pole, meaning there soon will be enough daylight and warmth for hardy climate researchers to make their annual haul south — way, way south. (Since Antarctica’s ice sheet would raise seas more than 150 feet upon melting, it seems like an important thing to stay on top of.)

But preparations by America’s team are being threatened by the American government shutdown. NPR explains:

Advance teams have already started working to get things set up and ready for the researchers, who usually begin heading south right about now.

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But they’re hearing that the government’s contractor for logistics in Antarctica, Lockheed Martin, will run out of funding for its Antarctic support program in about a week. A decision about whether they will need to start pulling back personnel is expected very soon.

The fear is that this year’s entire research season will effectively be cancelled — that scientists and logistical support workers will be called back home, and only skeleton crews will be left to keep the three U.S. research stations going.

What’s it like to stare down the looming threat of an entire lost year of research? Peter Doran, a professor of earth sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago, articulated his feelings to NPR’s All Things Considered:

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“We can do things that other countries can’t do because of the great logistic support that we’ve had for years,” he says.

The thought of all the science that wouldn’t get done if there is a pullback is depressing to Doran. “And the waste of money is just heartbreaking,” he adds. “All the equipment that’s been shipped down already for this field season, all the people having to reverse all that — for nothing? It really kind of makes me ill.”

The federal government shutdown jeopardizes more than  just the scientific study of Antarctica’s expansive ice mass. House Republicans’ continued effort to hold the U.S. hostage in a bid to quash Obamacare affects science research across the board. From Greenwire:

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ mission statement vows “to advance our knowledge and understanding of the universe.” But when the federal government shut down last Tuesday, its scientists were forced to trim their sails.

The center sent home more than 100 of its 900 employees, affecting as many as 60 projects — including the mapping of solar flares, a threat to satellites that feed data to American smartphones. Disrupted federal funding is “so counterproductive” at a time of global competition for technological dominance, center spokesman David Aguilar lamented in an interview.

“For people to say that this is not important, that it doesn’t have an impact,” Aguilar added, reflects a lack of awareness “of what technology does for our lives.”

While the economic fallout from closed national parks and unpaid federal workers began to hit almost immediately after the shutdown began, its effect on scientific research promises to kick in on a slower time scale and with less easily communicated consequences for many Americans.

And as the federal shutdown stretches into its second week, polls are showing that most Americans blame the GOP. The L.A. Times reports that the president’s approval rating has risen even as his agencies have been furloughed by Congress’s inability to pass a budget:

The standoff over the government shutdown continues to damage the public’s opinion of congressional Republicans, two new surveys indicate, a finding likely to deepen concern among GOP leaders about the impact the stalemate is having on their party.

A third newly released survey shows that overall approval of Congress has fallen to nearly a record low.

Disapproval of the way congressional Republicans are “handling negotiations over the federal budget” has jumped to 70%, a Washington Post-ABC News poll shows. The poll, taken Wednesday through Sunday, found 24% approving of the congressional GOP.

Of course, this is a fantasy come true for fossil-fuel-allied Republicans: No government means crippled regulators and hobbled science. Maybe that’s why greens are vocally seething over the shutdown while the energy industry, in the words of a recent Politico article, “are mostly staying mum” about it.

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