Satellite Image of Antarctica: Government research programs such as Operation IceBridge, the NASA mission that collects aerial data on polar ice as a way of bridging the gap between the agency's ice-observing satellite missions, are back online after the government shutdown. Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr
"We're back!" With that triumphant Thursday morning tweet, the NASA Climate Twitter feed announced its return, the end of the government shutdown and the restoration of climate science activities at the agency.
NASA, which is very active on social media, had been missed by its 5 million followers during the shutdown. To fill the gap, online space and science enthusiasts created the hashtag #ThingsNASAMightTweet, as well as the @NASAShutdown Twitter account.
Through those alternative channels, science fans learned that the sun was flaring, the Juno mission to Jupiter had come out of safe mode, and the MODIS satellite imagers were still sending back clear pictures of the Earth.
But while @NASAShutdown tried to take the agency's place in the social media universe, it could do little for the climate science activities at NASA and other agencies that were put on hold during the shutdown.
Take Operation IceBridge, the NASA mission that collects aerial data on polar ice as a way of bridging the gap between the agency's ice-observing satellite missions.
IceBridge activities, which were scheduled to run out of McMurdo Station in Antarctica this field season, have been delayed due to the shutdown (ClimateWire, Oct. 4).
Michael Studinger, the project scientist for IceBridge, returned to work yesterday and is doing what he can to get the project back on track.
"We have more questions than answers, but we should know more sometime next week -- hopefully," Studinger wrote in an email. "Both NASA and [the National Science Foundation] are committed to enable a shortened McMurdo deployment if possible."
Polar research set to restart
Researchers already in Antarctica, who had been preparing to leave due to the shutdown, were excited to return to their science projects (ClimateWire, Oct. 11).
"Science is (almost) rolling again here on the ice," Jamie Collins, a graduate student at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, wrote on his blog.
"The sense of relief on station is palpable -- members of the various science teams are excited to set up their laboratories and begin the meticulous business of sampling and data collection," reported Collins.
James Overland, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research oceanographer who studies the Arctic, was readying his research team for flights it had planned to begin Oct. 2. They will now start Oct. 19.
The team is measuring the transfer of heat from the ice-free ocean into the atmosphere, to see if that heat may be affecting weather patterns in places like the U.S. East Coast. While the research team is flying out as soon as possible, the delay has forced them to fly over a lower part of the ocean.
However, Overland is just glad to get back to work.
"If the shutdown had gone one more week, it would have been too dark and without enough warm ocean temperatures for us to really do our research. Because the shutdown ended yesterday, we'll still be able to salvage some research during this window," Overland said.
Shutdown ends before things 'start falling apart'
Other NOAA workers were similarly happy to return to their jobs.
Alexander MacDonald, the director of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., said his employees got back to work as soon as they could. MacDonald had been one of the 100 or so federal employees or contractors working at the ESRL facility during the shutdown.