RSS Twitter Facebook

Follow Us On


U.S. Gov. Shutdown Felt At South Pole

October 15th, 2013

Antarctica Byrd Field Camp. Photo credit: Flickr user eliduke via Creative Commons

The government shutdown is still going on. It’s been two weeks now but our leaders still haven’t worked it out. They need to soon because there’s a big deadline in two days — October 17. That’s the day the U.S. government will start to not be able to pay its bills. It would be the first time in history. We’re hoping Congress will figure it out (gulp, by the day after tomorrow) … and that we won’t be needing to write a story about that.

In the meantime, what could the U.S. government shutdown possibly have to do with Antarctica, which is at the end of the Earth, 8,000 miles away?

Antarctica may be freezing cold but it’s a hot spot for scientists. Scientists in Antarctica are like doctors measuring the Earth’s pulse. They do some of the most important science on the planet, and a lot of it is done by American scientists who are largely funded by the National Science Foundation … which is funded by the U.S. government.

What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica. What happens there is actually a huge indicator for the what is happening in the world, especially in terms of climate change.  It’s also not just endless ice. In addition to amazing and unique animals, there’s an active volcano, as well as nearly 400 lakes and an entire mountain range below the ice. And a lot more. There are about 150 scientific experiments going on there at any one time.

No country actually “owns” Antarctica. But the U.S. is one of 40 nations that’s part of an Antarctic Treaty that says Antarctica can be used for peaceful purposes only. No militaries. Yes, science.

The problem is that the timing for the government shutdown as it relates to Antarctica couldn’t be worse. It’s hard to get there … and this is the time to go. And if the 3,000 or so scientists and staff can’t get there, they won’t be able to collect the data that has been collected year-after-year and decade-upon-decade. One scientist who was supposed to go but now may not be able to, Dr. Joseph Levy, told the New York Times : “It’s like a biography of the earth with a couple of pages in the middle torn out.”

HTE’s other stories about Antarctica here and here . Teachers can also apply to go there through Polartrec .

Print Friendly

Leave a Comment

If you’re under 13, please submit your parent’s email address so that we can get their permission.