Government shutdown puts freeze on Antarctic research

October 15, 2013 11:30 AM

Ryan Rivet

As the effects of the continuing government shutdown are being felt across the country, it’s easy to think that a private university would be somewhat immune to such public-sector woes. However, impact of the shutdown is reaching members of the Tulane University research community as well.

Palmer Station, Antarctica

Palmer Station, one of the three United States research stations located in Antarctica, was moved to caretaker status and all science was halted there due to the continuing government shutdown. (Photo by Brad Rosenheim)

“The government shutdown affects the university’s research enterprise in a number of ways,” says Laura Levy, Tulane vice president of research. “Collaborations with government scientists are delayed because those colleagues are on furlough and their activities temporarily halted. Similarly, projects that require federal agency discussion or direct action to proceed will also be delayed.”

Such is the case for a recently cancelled research trip to Antarctica. Brad Rosenheim, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, was planning on sending PhD student Christina Subt on an expedition to collect sediment cores from an area adjacent to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Rosenheim says research stations have all been moved to “caretaker status” and all science has been halted. Due to the small window of opportunity allowed by the Antarctic summer, Subt may not be able to reschedule the trip.

“The scheduling for these expeditions is years in advance, so you can’t just move the expedition to the next year,” Rosenheim says. “It may be done if they squeeze us in somewhere, but it’s not simply a wait-until-next-year scenario.”

While Rosenheim says the cancellation is disappointing, he adds the consequences for his team are less dire than they are for other groups operating in Antarctica.

“We’re geologists, so these sediments are going to be there for the next few years,” says Rosenheim. “There are people down there who have been doing time series studies for 10 or 15 years; missing a year in those time series can be very detrimental.”

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu