Monday, October 7, 2013

Shutdown update

Not much solid information yet, but a quick update none the less.

We've gotten information that the USAP is rapidly running out of money.  I've heard different numbers getting thrown around, but it seems that the current funds will run out by the end of this coming week.  After that, the only money available will be emergency funds for use on critical life safety items only; no more science, no business as usual. This is the busiest and most expensive time of the year for the program, and the shutdown couldn't have come at a worse time. Pole only JUST opened for the summer, they got a couple of Twin Otters in but they haven't been able to leave yet due to adverse weather at McMurdo.  They still need to do the yearly station resupply and refuel, just to keep it operating even at bare minimum capacity.  Even McMurdo has barely opened, and they haven't started their yearly resupply either.

Here at Palmer, we're in out own complicated situation.  We're far too small to have an airstrip, so our only transportation on and off station is our resupply ship, the R/V Lawrence M Gould (The LMG).  It left Chile on Friday and should be getting here on Tuesday the 8th, bringing with it our bi-yearly load of frozen food and fuel.  Fortunately that got bought before the shut down happened, and for the most part this boat trip is unaffected. But I feel like if the station shut down happens, they're going to try and get as many people out of here as they can on this cruise.

The problem is that even at their maximum capacity, there isn't enough room for everyone on the boat.  My figures show that even if they fill every available space, 17 people would have to be left on station.  If that many people have to stay, I think they'll probably leave me here, at least for now.

What happens after that, I'm not sure anyone has any idea about.  The ships are hugely expensive to operate; the LMG alone is $35,000 per day, the Natty-B is far more, and each round-trip from Chile to Palmer and back is usually around $400,000.  It's a gigantic chunk of the USAP's budget, and it makes sense that they'll want to shut them down if possible.  But that leaves us with very limited/no options for getting the rest of us off station, or getting more supplies to us during the summer.  So perhaps they'd run the LMG back down for another trip to get the rest of us, or delay the next trip until much later.

I've got no clue what's going to happen next, and I don't think anyone else does either.  But given that this government shutdown doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, something is going to happen.  We're just waiting to find out what that is.

The NSF still hasn't made a decision, but they've told us to expect one early this week.  No one is sure what to expect, but it's seeming more and more likely that science will be severely curtailed for the rest of the season at all three stations.

2 comments:

Leslie A said...

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/10/united-states-suspends-antarctic-research-season.html

Anonymous said...

The ship is called the Nathaniel B. Palmer or "Palmer" for short. It's disrespectful to call it the "Natty-B."