Shutdown Cancels US Antarctic Research Program
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A U.S. Antarctic Program Twin Otter on the sea ice of McMurdo Sound.
As the U.S. government shutdown goes into its 10th day, a work-around to save the country from defaulting on its debt may be in the works with a temporary hike in the nation's borrowing limit. Even still, the partial shutdown of the government, including national parks, is likely to continue. Here the U.S. Capitol looms in the background of a sign on the National Mall reminding visitors of the closures to all national parks due to the federal government shutdown in Washington.
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Yosemite Valley destinations are closed to drivers; as the sign indicates, travelers must exit the park by way of the El Capitan Bridge Crossover.
A sign announces the closure of the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Though Old Faithful continues to spout off in Yellowstone National Park, the famous geyser is off-limits to tourists.
Due to the government shutdown, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island have been closed to visitors.
A National Parks policeman walks past a sign after the Lincoln Memorial was sealed off from visitors in Washington, Oct. 1, 2013. During the last shutdown 17 years ago, government workers were furloughed for 6 days in November and then again from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996. Barricades were then, as they are now, placed around national monuments, such as the Lincoln Memorial.
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A park ranger secures a road at the entrance to Mount Rushmore National Memorial on Oct. 1, 2013 in Keystone, South Dakota.
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A sign in the lobby of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., warns visitors that the library is closed due a government shutdown. While the government-funded library is closed, outdoor areas where a piece of the Berlin Wall (in background) is located and Air Force One, are privately funded and remain open to the public.
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A board informs visitors of the closing of the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial, west of Paris, on October 1, 2013. The famous D-Day cemetery for American soldiers in Normandy, France, is also closed.
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U.S. Park Police move barricades into place around the World War II Memorial in Washington to prevent people from entering the monument on the National Mall. After a confrontation was caught on video between a park ranger and Texas Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer, during which Neugebauer told the park ranger she should be ashamed for closing the memorial, park rangers have taken to wearing badges that read: "I Am Not Ashamed."
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A U.S. Park Police officer assists Park Service employees in closing down the Martin Luther King (MLK) Memorial on the National Mall Oct. 1, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
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The USS Constitution in Boston, is closed to onboard visitors because of the federal government shutdown.
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Visitors take pictures of the outside of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park on Oct. 1, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif.
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Park Ranger Dylan Moe stands guard as the sun sets at the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park to prevent any tourists from entering, in Joshua Tree, Calif., on Oct. 2, 2013.
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Access to Switzer Picnic Area is prohibited in the Angeles National Forest on Oct. 2, 2013 in the San Gabriel Mountains, northeast of Los Angeles, Calif.
An unidentified biker rides past the barricades and sign at the entrance to Rock Creek Park in Chevy Chase, Md. The road, Rock Creek Parkway, which runs through the park, is a major thoroughfare for motor vehicles and bicycles between the Maryland suburbs and downtown Washington, D.C.
As scientists had feared, yesterday (Oct. 8) the National Science Foundation announced it was canceling the U.S. Antarctic research program for this year because of the ongoing government shutdown.
Scientists and contractors already stationed at the three U.S. science bases on Antarctica will be sent home and a small staff left behind to maintain the structures and equipment, the National Science Foundation (NSF) said.
The announcement was a devastating blow for the polar science community. The shutdown means the cancellation of millions of dollars of planned research. Graduate students may have to stay in school longer because they won't get the data they need to complete their research. Contractors are losing their jobs. Other countries, including New Zealand, France and Italy, rely on the United States' sea-ice runway at McMurdo Station and may not be able to conduct their own research after the pullout. (Weirdest Effects of the Shutdown)
Though the NSF said it would work to restart science activities after the government shutdown ends, many U.S. scientists will miss their timing window for the summer research season, which started Oct. 3.
"It makes the blood boil," said Ross Powell, a geologist at Northern Illinois University and chief scientist for the WISSARD project, the first drilling expedition to discover life in a buried Antarctic lake.
This year, Powell and his colleagues planned to drill into the spot where the Whillans Ice Stream meets the sea. Remote sensing surveys suggests water flows from the buried Lake Whillans into the ocean underneath the Ross Ice Shelf, creating a hidden, estuary-like setting.
The NSF has invested $10 million in the project, not counting the hours and hours of planning and operational time, Powell said. "If we don't get this field season, basically, we've wasted half the money," Powell told LiveScience.
Dawn Sumner, a geobiologist at the University of California, Davis, expected to leave for Antarctica on Oct. 17. Now, Sumner said she's in a holding pattern, waiting to see if Congress "gets its act together" in time for her to salvage her research plans, she told LiveScience.
"Mine is somewhat time-sensitive; we can't do it in midsummer," Sumner said of her research on microbial life in Antarctic lakes, though she put her plight in perspective. "Although I am very disappointed in losing some, possibly all, of my research, the impacts on other people's health and safety are much more dire."
Other projects that could be affected by the pullout include NASA's Operation IceBridge, which tracks yearly changes in the polar ice, as well as the ongoing monitoring of climate change. Interrupting the unbroken data sets researchers gather to gauge global warming makes it difficult to analyze trends, many scientists have said.
Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.
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