An American Shutdown Reaches the Earth’s End

John Schwartz in The New York Times:

ANTARCTIC-3-popupJoseph Levy was preparing for a season of scientific research in Antarctica last week when he got the call: Stand down. Dr. Levy,a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics, is studying the climate history of the dry valleys of Antarctica by analyzing buried ice sheets that have been frozen since the last ice age and are beginning to thaw. The research season in Antarctica typically starts around now, when things warm up enough to be merely frigid and scientists from around the world flock far south to conduct studies that affect our understanding of climate change, volcanoes, the family life of Weddell seals and much more. But with the United States government partly shut down, federally financed research has come to a halt for Dr. Levy and hundreds of other Americans. Even if a budget deal is struck, these scientists will have less time on the ice, and some will lose a full year’s worth of work as the narrow window of productive time closes. “It’s like a biography of the earth with a couple of pages in the middle torn out,” Dr. Levy said. “Nature will have taken its course, and we will have not been there to see it.”

The shutdown in Washington is being felt acutely at the ends of the earth. Some 3,000 Americans work through the Antarctic summer, including scientists and support staff from the private sector and from federal agencies like the Defense and Energy Departments, NASA and the United States Geological Survey. Amid the battle over the country’s spending and debt limit, the National Science Foundation, which coordinates the Antarctic program, has ordered it into “caretaker status,” which means skeleton staffing. “All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended,” the agency said in a statement last week.

More here.