(By Correne Coetzer) This week the National Science Foundation announced the cancellation of their science programs in Antarctica due to a lack of funds, and with that the evacuation of all but a skeleton staff from McMurdo, Amundsen–Scott and Palmer stations.
Although the South Pole Station, managed by the United States, doesn't have any direct involvement in the South Pole skiers’ expeditions, they are in direct contact with ANI/ALE, who manages the expeditions. The Station’s management and communication department know about every skier’s arrival at the Pole and every ALE plane landing. They are also responsible for the maintenance of the runway for the planes.
Most of the time, upon arrival at the Station, skiers are met by a staff member, or even the head of the Station as it happened in the past. Many skiers were privileged enough to get a tour of the classic Dome or the impressive new Station.
Now the South Pole Station will shut down, with only a skeleton staff “to ensure human safety and preserve government property.” During the summer there are 250+ science and support staff at this US South Pole Station.
The National Science Foundation (NSF), responsible for managing and coordinating the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), announced canceling their research program for this Antarctic summer because of the lack of funds from the American Government, “funds for this support will be depleted on or about October 14, 2013.”
Without additional funding, NSF has directed its Antarctic support contractor to begin planning and implementing caretaker status for research stations, ships and other assets, says the press release.
“Under caretaker status, the USAP will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government property, including the three primary research stations, ships and associated research facilities. All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.”
They added, “It is important to note, however, that some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed, the seasonal workforce is released, science activities are curtailed and operations are reduced.”
The Journal, Nature, wrote, this decision is jeopardizing hundreds of scientists’ work in glaciology, ecology and astrophysics.
They added, another casualty would be Operation IceBridge, an aerial NASA campaign to map ice sheets in remote parts of Antarctica. This is the first year that IceBridge’s Antarctic flights have operated out of McMurdo station, rather than Punta Arenas, Chile. The move was designed to expand the areas that researchers can reach using NASA’s P-3 aircraft, which carries instruments to measure the height of the ice sheet and to detect the depth of water trapped below it. “This was going to be our chance to see the ice sheet in a way that had never been done before,” says Robin Bell, a glaciologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York.
South Pole ski expeditions to the South Pole
This year’s ski season to the South Pole is about to start. Adventure Network International (ANI) plans again to set up camp at the South Pole, as was done the past two years. The camp is set up one kilometer from the American Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station buildings to support the skiers and the clients flying in for a day visit.
One of the managers at the South Pole camp this season will be record-breaking skier, Hannah McKeand. Hannah has completed six full distance ski expeditions from coastal starting points, Hercules Inlet and Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf (Messner). She comments on Facebook on a question if this will affect ANI/ALE’s operation, “I don't think all this will effect our operation too much, but it will certainly make things pretty quiet on the ground.”
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