The government shutdown has now reached every continent on the planet. Antarctic research stations have been shuttered into caretaker status, since the United States Antarctic Program—a department of the National Science Foundation—expects to run out of funds about a week from now. The caretaker operations allow operations that protect crew and property to remain active but any other research is put on hold.
"Under caretaker status," read a statement, "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."
Lapses in research, especially in geographic locations as remote as Antarctica, can jeopardize decades of research. As one team described to the Associated Press:
A ship had been scheduled to arrive Wednesday with researchers, including those working on a long-term study that has tracked penguins and other creatures since 1990, said Brown University doctoral student Catherine Luria who was working with colleagues now there. That work, coordinated by Hugh Ducklow of Columbia University, relied on statistics and trend that need to be unbroken.
"If we miss a year, we'll never get it back again," said Ducklow, who has tracked a 95 percent drop in Adelie penguin population over the years. "It's pretty devastating for our project."
October, when the southern pole begins to warm up, is normally the beginning of research season on the continent, meaning that government gridlock could not have come at a worse time. In particular, researchers who have been their during the winter seasons are normally coming home around this time, and wrangling a flight out of the McMurdo Research Station is slightly tougher than buying a Delta boarding pass.