Hit by shutdown, NIU’s Antarctic research canceled

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo courtesy of Northern Illinois University)
Ross Powell (left) and fellow Northern Illinois University geologist Reed Scherer recover sediment from a sub-glacial lake bed during last season's Antarctic expedition.

DEKALB – A team of Northern Illinois University scientists studying the effects of climate change will not be returning to Antarctica this year because of the lingering impact of the federal government shutdown, jeopardizing the final year of their research.

Their work was being funded through a $10 million grant by the National Science Foundation, which suspended all field work during the government’s two-week partial shutdown. Now, there’s a bottleneck in flying in the hundreds of scientists trying to salvage their work during the research season that recently got underway.

As a result, NIU geology professors Ross Powell and Reed Scherer will not be able to reach Antarctica with their team, The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle reported Tuesday. Researchers and students from 13 other universities were also part of the project.

They had planned to drill a half-mile hole into the ice to investigate rivers and lakes running beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

“This is something we are concerned with because that system controls how fast ice moves into the oceans, melts and affects the rising sea level,” Powell said.

It was to be the final year in a decade of research and planning that went into The Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project.

Antarctic researchers have a short window during the warmer months in the Southern Hemisphere. With the shutdown over, Powell says there is now a “bottleneck” in the system of flights that ferry scientists to Antarctica from New Zealand.

There are too many people, too much gear and two few flights to allow everyone to travel.

“Now our containers will have to stay for another winter with no guarantee that it will be used in the future, despite the millions (of dollars) in investment,” said Powell’s colleague Scherer.

They might be able to reschedule the research for next year, but that would require more funding and permission from the National Science Foundation.

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Information from: The Daily Chronicle, http://www.daily-chronicle.com

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