Vivancos, who will soon be heading home instead of conducting research, was part of the Ducklow team that just arrived at Palmer. They were scheduled to go out in Zodiac boats and start taking ocean measurements for the year.
"If we don't get these observations, it's not like you can just go back and get them a year later, because every year is unique. Those observations and those data are gone forever," Ducklow said. "If you have gaps in the record, it invalidates a lot of the kinds of statistical analyses you can do. ... The records just lose a lot of their scientific value."
Diane McKnight, a University of Colorado, Boulder, researcher who leads a long-term research project called McMurdo Dry Valleys, takes stream flow measurements and lake profiles, which are samples at a series of depths in the lakes, in the dry valleys every year.
"We are interested in how ecosystems respond to changing climate," McKnight said. "In the dry valleys, water is critical for living systems to function, so the streams are ecosystems that really turn on biologically when the water first comes down, when the glacier first starts to melt."
Typically, streams start flowing between November and early December, she said.
"If this is a summer where stream flow actually starts in early November, then we miss records," she added.
The team also takes its lake profiles in mid-November. This helps it document the changes in the lakes that occurred over the winter. If the streams start flowing into the lakes before team members get down there, they will miss that data for the year.
"We're most concerned right now about getting down to study the lakes," McKnight said.
Arctic impacts are less
The shutdown is having less of an impact with the Arctic, because the research season is winding down there, said Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington. Arctic sea ice hit its annual low last month, and the region is entering its frigid fall and winter, when field research is not optimal.
Additionally, operations in Antarctica are far more centralized, relying on a few big bases staffed by government contractors, Joughin said. "In contrast, people manage their own logistics for the Arctic," he said. In Greenland, researchers typically use a local airport, not a National Science Foundation landing strip like the one serving McMurdo Station in Antarctica, he said.
"In addition, the Arctic research program is generally less expensive, because it's closer to home, and we also don't maintain a series of bases the way we do in the Antarctic," said Zachary Brown, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University.
However, there are concerns about layoffs of employees and the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money related to a few still-pending Arctic missions.
Because of the shutdown, a scheduled three-week experiment on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-owned P-3 plane to survey the re-formation of Arctic ice near Alaska did not begin operations last weekend as planned, said Thomas Ackerman, director of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington. The institute receives funding from NOAA.
If the P-3 flight is canceled, about $800,000 in promised grant money to the institute from the Office of Naval Research will be lost, Ackerman said. "If the research grants fail, it's not just like, 'Oh, shucks.' Instead, it's 'I don't have a salary,'" he said. Ice formation in the studied region occurs in October, so there is a small window of opportunity for a flight, he said.
Then there are meetings. If the standoff doesn't end soon, State Department senior Arctic official Julie Gourley may not be able to attend a key meeting of the Arctic Council in Canada in two weeks. "It would mean there would be no U.S. representation at the meeting, which would be a loss for the U.S. to advance issues of interest and concern," said Heather Conley, director of the European program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The council is grappling with everything from black carbon emission to shipping lanes, and there are only a few pivotal meetings a year, she added.