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Happy Antarctica Day!
Antarctica Day was inaugurated in 2010 to celebrate the 1st December 1959 signature of the Antarctic Treaty, which was adopted "with the interests of science and the progress of all mankind." The Antarctic Treaty has been signed by 48 nations to date and covers the area south of 60˚S latitude. The Treaty has ensured that Antarctica remains a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.
October 16th, 2013
As the partial shutdown of the Federal Government ends and employees get back to work, the NSF Office of Polar Programs is working hard to restart the Antarctic season, weighing logistical issues and science priorities across the whole of the Antarctic program. Caretaker Status has been lifted at all three Antarctic bases, and we remain hopeful that we can resume a modified field season, yet to be defined, in order to achieve WISSARD science goals. Stay tuned!
October 15th, 2013
The government shutdown has impacted the WISSARD project, as it has other science programs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The National Science Foundation is responsible for managing and coordinating the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) on behalf of the nation, which includes providing support personnel and facilities and coordinating transportation and other logistics for scientific research. Because of a lapse in Federal appropriations to NSF, operational funding necessary for WISSARD science to continue in the field will be depleted on or about October 14, 2013.
Without additional funding, NSF has directed its Antarctic Support Contractor (ASC) to begin planning and implementing caretaker status for research stations, ships and other assets. The agency is mandated to take this step as a result of the absence of appropriations and the Antideficiency Act. Due to restrictions of the Antideficiency Act, NSF representatives are strictly limited on communications directly with WISSARD scientists and staff.
Under caretaker status, the United States Antarctic Program will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government property; this includes the research station and associated research facilities that support the WISSARD project. All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property have been suspended. Currently, only those people considered essential to maintaining life and property remain in Antarctica. All scientists and other operational personnel due to have flown to Antarctica are currently being held back.
NSF remains committed to protecting the safety and health of its deployed personnel and to its stewardship of the USAP under these challenging circumstances. WISSARD team members recognize both the NSF USAP, and its Antarctic Support Contractor, Lockheed Martin, as important partners in WISSARD science endeavors, and hope for an immediate resolution to the current situation of NSF’s federal funding.
Thirteen WISSARD science groups at universities across the country are impacted by the halt of our science program. This effects our ability to continue cutting-edge, multidisciplinary science efforts after an extraordinarily successful field season last year, the employment of the WISSARD drill team, and perhaps most importantly, the training of the next generation of Polar scientists. Four post-doctoral scientists and 19 graduate students will be detrimentally impacted by significant delays in field science and data collection this season.
WISSARD scientists and staff are working on contingency plans should NSF receive funding from the government in time for the 2013-2014 season be restored. The WISSARD project is prioritizing potential field efforts to maximize the science that can be accomplished under different lengths of operations in the field and different levels of logistical support. WISSARD remains hopeful that the government shutdown will be resolved very soon and that we can refocus energies on our science, the result of many years of time commitments and monies expended for everyone involved in the WISSARD project.
WISSARD Project Overview
Subglacial Aquatic Environments
Over the last several decades, by using ground penetrating radar and other remote sensing tools, scientists have discovered that under the massive Antarctic ice sheets there lies a vast hydrological system of liquid water. This water exists because geothermal heat flow from below, coupled with pressure, movement, and the insulating nature of the ice sheet above, is great enough to maintain some areas at the base of the ice sheet above the freezing point, even in the extreme cold of Antarctica. In topographic depressions there are hundreds of lakes, both large and small; some are isolated, but many are interconnected by water channels and large areas of saturated sediments, the water eventually running out into the Southern Ocean as the ice sheet becomes a floating ice shelf.
In order to explore one of these hydrological systems at the margin of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, we have organized an interdisciplinary project to access the subglacial environment. The Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project (WISSARD) is using a variety of tools and techniques to explore Subglacial Lake Whillans and the nearby grounding zone, on the southeastern edge of the Ross Sea. Radar and seismic equipment is used to profile the overlying ice sheet and the underlying water, sediments, and rock, while GPS stations accurately track ice movement. A purpose-built Hot Water Drill is designed to melt a 30 centimeter hole through 800 meters of ice, providing clean access to Subglacial Lake Whillans and the base of the ice sheet. A variety of sophisticated tools will be sent down the borehole to collect data and samples, supported by equipment and laboratories on the surface. Everything is designed with clean access in mind, so as not to contaminate this previously unexplored environment, and to maintain the pristine nature of this part of Antarctica.