If the United States Antarctic Program is closed because of the government shutdown, it will jeopardize vital research that could affect climate change science for months or even years. But that's exactly what's going to happen if we don't take action quickly.
Unlike shutting down a court or a government office in a city, removing Antarctic participants from the ice means losing a long-term investment in infrastructure and a higher a higher cost to re-start the projects. I’m seeing the devastating consequences of this decision firsthand as I’ve been working as a contractor at McMurdo Station in Antarctica all winter. Congress must pass a shutdown exemption, similar to US Military Pay and US Defense Contractors, for the USAP program or end the shutdown.
The total cost of the USAP program is approximately $350 million dollars -- a value added amount of money which is small in terms of the $3.8 trillion dollar total budget. In the context of such a budget, it’s really a trivial amount for Congress to authorize a portion of it to allow international science to continue -- but the consequences of shutting down are devastating to advancing science and research.
The effects this shutdown will be the loss of continuity in projects that have been ongoing since the International Geophysical Year (IGY) some 50 years ago. Scientific data such as the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) which has been ongoing for 30 years will have a large data gap in at a crucial time in our understanding of climate change. A similar problem would be the abrupt end to 11 years of continuous data on the solar cycle that is used, for example, by the UC Boulder Lidar project. Since solar cycles are 11 years long, missing this last critical bit of data could jeopardize the multi-year investment. Also threatened is our understanding of rapidly changing ecosystems that is being generated by the study of Penguins in the Palmer Peninsula.
Research conducted in Antarctica is costly and can only be conducted during very specific windows of time. Even a brief shutdown could ruin the integrity of studies and translate to millions of dollars of research funds wasted. It’s incredibly costly to re-start studies and could take months or even years to begin again because of the climate. Not to mention that research conducted by other nations will also be affected by the closure of USAP facilities.