But the project has already been forced to cut eight scientists, and the planned number of days for field research this year was cut in half, to 10, because sequestration reduced the NSF’s Antarctic science budget. Now, Powell says, “it’s all up in the air.” Like other researchers, Powell says that he has not heard from the NSF directly about the possibility that the Antarctic season will be cancelled.
Mahlon Kennicutt, a retired oceanographer and a former president of the 31-nation Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, says the shutdown complicates an already unstable funding situation for U.S. Antarctic science.
Last year, a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by the NSF warned that logistical costs — including transportation and support personnel—now consume 85–90 percent of the U.S. Antarctic program’s budget. That is partly a consequence of operating on the coldest, driest and highest continent on Earth, and partly a consequence of the country’s crumbling polar infrastructure, the panel warned.
Now, sequestration and the shutdown are magnifying that problem, Kennicutt says. “Science will inordinately bear the brunt of these fiscal problems. This is a long-term issue. You have to wonder if there is a point at which this just can’t function.”
This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on October 4, 2013.