Three American research stations in Antarctica will be put in “caretaker status” and all research suspended as a consequence of the continuing US government shutdown, the United States Antarctic Program has announced. The timing couldn’t be worse. The period from October to February is when Antarctica is at its least inhospitable, and as many as 700 scientists descend on the continent during the research season.
“Caretaker status” means all non-essential staff will be sent home and planned research cancelled. The stations will only be staffed enough “to ensure human safety and preserve government property, including the three primary research stations, ships and associated research facilities.” USAP received its last round of funding on Sept. 30. It expects to run out of cash by Oct. 14.
The ramifications of this decision are enormous. Even if the US government comes back online soon after, not all of USAP’s work will recommence: “some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed,” the agency said. Expeditions to hostile environments such as Antarctica are carefully planned years in advance and do not take well to last-minute changes.