Upgrades to U.S. Antarctic Facilities Will Require Research Funding Cuts, NSF Panel Says

Illuminating. New report highlights need for repairs and upgrades to U.S. Antarctic research facilities, such as McMurdo Station, shown here at dawn.

Chad Carpenter, National Science Foundation

U.S. science facilities in Antarctica are in dire need of repair and upgrade—and paying for it all will require cutting into Antarctic research activities, according to a new report published today by a panel organized by the National Science Foundation (NSF). But making those changes will ultimately pay off, not only by providing safer and more efficient facilities, but by increasing the amount of science able to be supported by the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), the report finds.

The report, More and Better Science in Antarctica Through Increased Logistical Effectiveness, is the result of a Blue Ribbon Panel convened last October by John Holdren, the director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, and NSF. The panel was chaired by Norman Augustine, the retired chair and chief executive officer of the Lockheed Martin Corporation. Augustine also chaired a previous review of the U.S. Antarctic Program in 1997, which resulted in a 2008 overhaul of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The panel examined many logistical issues, including transportation, communications, and energy efficiency. It rejects the concept of moving existing facilities, and calls for continued use of the McMurdo, Palmer, and South Pole stations as the main U.S. hubs of research in Antarctica. It also suggests implementing state-of-the-art overland transportation support to the South Pole Station, which is currently supplied by only ski-equipped and fuel-intensive LC130 aircraft. The report also calls for many repairs to Antarctic facilities, particularly to the aging McMurdo and Palmer stations.

To pay for these upgrades, the panel recommends a threefold approach: reducing the contractor labor force by 20%, increasing the USAP's annual appropriation (relative to fiscal year 2012) by 6% for the next 4 years, and diverting 6% of planned science expenditures over the next four years to help pay for the upgrades.

See this week's edition of Science for more details on the new report.