US shutdown puts freeze on Antarctic research

WELLINGTON: The government shutdown in Washington has forced US bases half a world away in Antarctica into “caretaker” mode and the suspension of research efforts, the National Science Foundation (NSF) said Wednesday.

In an unprecedented development that scientists described as “tragic”, the US-based NSF said funds to provide logistical support for the US Antarctic Program (USAP) will dry up early next week and contractors have been ordered to scale back operations.

The US has three Antarctic bases studying topics ranging from climate change to penguin populations.

But all research in coming months — the busiest period for scientists when conditions are at their least extreme — will be abandoned, the NSF said.

“Under caretaker status, 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,” the NSF said in a statement.