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Antarctic Research Jeopardized by Government Shutdown

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Oct 09, 2013 09:59 AM EDT
Antarctic
Due to a lack of funding resulting from the ongoing government shutdown, the National Science Foundation announced Tuesday it is shuttering all research in the region and shifting into "caretaker" mode. (Photo : Reuters)

With the government shutdown entering its second week, Antarctic research is feeling the impact as the region moves further along in its spring season.

According to NPR, the government's contractor for logistics in the frozen continent, Lockheed Martin, is set to run out of funding for its Antarctic support program in roughly a week. The company has told employees that a decision as to whether or not the three Antarctic research bases will be shut down will be made this week, Nature News reported.

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However, even if the shutdown were to end quickly, some projects are already in jeopardy, according to LiveScience.

NASA's IceBridge campaign, responsible for measuring annual changes in the polar ice sheets, is included in these. LiveScience reports that furloughs have affected NASA's ability to install equipment on the IceBridge research plane in preparation for an Antarctic flight scheduled for late October.

The interruption of annual projects, like IceBridge, are especially problematic due to the gaping whole in data they cause, researchers warn.

"It is very valuable to have a continuous unbroken data series," Andrew Fountain, a glaciologist at Portland State University in Oregon who works in Antarctica's Dry Valleys, told LiveScience. "Having a gap in the data makes the analysis of trends -- such as warming/cooling and growing/shrinking -- that much more difficult and the statistical analysis more challenging."

According to Peter Doran, a professor of earth sciences from the University of Illinois, a significant amount of money has already been spent to prepare for this season's Antarctic studies.

"And the waste of money is just heartbreaking," he told NPR. "All the equipment that's been shipped down already for this field season, all the people having to reverse all that -- for nothing? It really kind of makes me ill."

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