As the federal shutdown enters its second week, many scientists worry that the United States program in Antarctica will be a casualty of political wars in Washington.
Researchers only have a short window of good weather between now and early February to complete projects from uncovering new life forms under the ice and observing outer space to understanding how climate change is altering Antarctic glaciers.
The National Science Foundation, which operates three American bases in Antarctica, has been brought to a standstill. Lockheed Martin, which provides support and logistics for the bases, has told researchers via e-mail that it is running out of money and will decide this week whether it will close all the bases for the research season, according to Nature News.
NSF officials in Washington were unavailable and Lockheed Martin spokespeople in Bethesda, Md., and Denver refused to comment. But the effects are already being felt at the South Pole.
"It's still pretty confusing," Lane Patterson, a cook at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station told Discovery News by telephone. "We've been told to hang tight. The South Pole is a unique place. It's hard to take a furlough. There's no break from the cold."