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Science Put on Ice By Federal Shutdown

The federal government has finally ended its 16-day shutdown, and as workers return to their desks and tourists parade back into national parks, science is picking up the pieces and—in some cases—starting from scratch.

The National Science Foundation’s summer U.S. Antarctic Program came to a destructive halt as D.C. juggled with the budget crisis. The foundation suspended all activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property, leaving our understanding of the earth’s past and future to be held hostage by congress’ inability to function.

The short Antarctic research season runs from October through February, and relies on the government for the funding of planes, ships and research equipment. Scientists and support staff from the private sector and federal agencies flock to the Earth’s southernmost continent to collect data on the biological study of animals, astronomical research, and long-term research on climate change and weather.

Although two weeks might seem like a short period of time, it is actually a large chunk of season in which most exploration and research is done on the Antarctic ice. Some scientists have lost a full year’s worth of work and must start their research over, putting back together the puzzle pieces ripped apart by the shutdown. Equipment that was put into place last year must be serviced and repaired, and data retrieved. Due to the shutdown, that equipment was left unattended, allowing snow to pile up and ruin machinery that cost the government hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The NSF released a statement reaffirming the restoration of the program, but noted that there are “some activities that cannot be restarted once the seasonally dependent window for research has been passed.”

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