Climate Science Takes Big Hit from Shutdown

October 15, 2013

The Laurence M. Gould The Antarctic Research and Supply Vessel Laurence M. Gould pulls away from Palmer Station. Jennifer Bogo

The Republican War on Science is no small part of the motivation congress has to shut down government.  Part of the  Tea Party narrative is that righteous God-fearing, science denying ‘Merricuns are targets of Godless watermelon commie scientists and their pesky facts and data.

Jennifer Bogo, articles Editor of Popular Science, bumped me with these items.

Popular Science:

As the icebreaker Laurence M. Gould barrels south through the Drake Passage, cutting through the largest ocean current in the world, its portholes look exactly like a row of front-loading washers. Waves relentlessly churn against the glass. Above decks, they crash over the stern. Passengers—those that aren’t sleeping off seasickness meds—place their dinner plates on sticky mats and learn to walk with the ship’s rolling gait. This is the only way to reach Palmer Station, the smallest of the three U.S. Antarctic research stations. It takes four days. And the scientists who arrived there last week are about to make the same journey back.

But for them, a quick round-trip through some of the world’s roughest waters is hardly the worst part of the government shutdown. Last Tuesday, the U.S. Antarctic Program, funded by the National Science Foundation, announced it would be sending the three U.S. Antarctic stations into “caretaker” mode, suspending all research activities not essential to human safety and the preservation of property. By Thursday, all of the scientists at Palmer will be sent home, leaving the station with a skeleton crew of about a dozen contractors; if the shutdown continues, the disruption to the Antarctic summer research season could be catastrophic.

“We have 22 years of data showing the summer snapshot in this area that’s changing really rapidly,” says Oscar Schofield, an oceanographer at Rutgers University. “If we go to disaster scenario, where the whole season is lost, we’ll have a gap. The whole point of a time series is to have continuous data so that you can talk about the trends in the system. So that would be tragic.” Hugh Ducklow directs the long-term ecological research project at Palmer: “Once it’s gone, it’s never coming back—we lose this data forever,” he says. “Because of the nature of our work, where we’re analyzing long time series of data, as soon as you start getting breaks, some of the analyses become impossible. A lot of the scientific value of the past 22 years can be damaged by a single missed year.”

Scientists at Palmer have been meticulously studying the Antarctic marine ecosystem—including all of the life in it, from microbes to penguins—every year since 1990. As a result, they’ve found themselves in the hot seat of climate change. The mid-winter air temperature along the West Antarctic Peninsula, where Palmer is located, has increased by 11 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years—five times the global average. Scientists have also documented stronger surface winds, cloudier skies, more snowfall, less ice, and warmer ocean water. Understanding the significance of these changes in Antarctica, where the ecosystem is relatively uncomplicated, could help tease out effects to other areas of the globe.

In Punta Arenas, Chile, Vivancos, a recent graduate of Columbia University, boarded the Laurence M. Gould, an icebreaker that would take him and others across the Drake Passage and to the National Science Foundation’s Palmer Station.

“The trip across was incredible,” Vivancos wrote in an email. “The wind howls incessantly, the huge waves crash against the side of the ship rocking it back and forth.”

Vivancos, who plans to start a doctoral program in the geosciences next year, was going to stay in Antarctica six months, while he and other scientists, part of the Palmer Station Long Term Ecological Research program, collected data on ocean chemistry and biology.

But on the day they arrived, he and other researchers were told they would have to turn around and go home.

“The station manager officially notified us that Palmer Station had been put on caretaker status since there was no official budget, which meant no money had been appropriated to conduct our research. Hence, there was no science to be done,” Vivancos said.

The National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that it was putting its three Antarctic research bases in caretaker mode, with only skeleton crews remaining to maintain the stations.

Researchers at the station could hardly believe what they were hearing, Vivancos said. “This had never happened before — it not only affects our livelihood in economic terms but the driving purpose of these scientists’ lives.”

Now, he continued, “everyone is preparing to leave, packing so that everything is ready to be shipped back. The word to best describe the mood is ‘uncertain,’ kind of like being held hostage.”

Research refugees ponder options

Antarctic researchers in the United States who had been readying for their field season are now scrambling, trying to make alternate plans for what research they might be able to accomplish once the shutdown ends.

“We are just trying to come up with all sorts of plans, a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C,” said Diana Wall, a soil scientist at Colorado State University who is part of a team that conducts long-term ecological research in Antarctica’s dry valleys.

The group of researchers Wall works with were planning to meet yesterday and today in Boulder, Colo., to come up with several contingency plans for the research season.

As Wall and others described it, scientists whose field seasons are affected by the shutdown are only in sporadic communication with the few employees of the National Science Foundation who are not furloughed, like Scott Borg, who heads the Antarctic science portion of the NSF’s polar program.

Many affected researchers are gleaning much of their news from contractors and from other media reports. Right now, the only thing they can do is make backup plan after backup plan.

“If there is a chance, say next week, they say, ‘All of you can’t go, but you can go and do XYZ.’ We need to come back with, ‘This is our first priority, this is our second priority, this is the data that can’t be missed,'” Wall said.

The impacts to climate research, which relies on continuous series of data, could be significant.

Data gaps being created

Hugh Ducklow, a professor and biological oceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, heads up the long-term research program at Palmer Station.

Researchers have 22 years of continuous observations from that site, which include measurements of ocean chemistry and biology. An unbroken series of observations on Adélie penguins, which in that region have experienced population crashes as sea ice disappears, goes back to the mid-1970s, Ducklow said.

Vivancos, who will soon be heading home instead of conducting research, was part of the Ducklow team that just arrived at Palmer. They were scheduled to go out in Zodiac boats and start taking ocean measurements for the year.

“If we don’t get these observations, it’s not like you can just go back and get them a year later, because every year is unique. Those observations and those data are gone forever,” Ducklow said. “If you have gaps in the record, it invalidates a lot of the kinds of statistical analyses you can do. … The records just lose a lot of their scientific value.”

UPDATE NYTimes now weighs in:

While the shutdown directly affects only American researchers, scientists from other nations have come to depend on the robust transportation and logistics system developed by the United States, said Alexander Kumar, a British scientist. What is more, he noted, the effects will be felt beyond the inconvenience of a single summer. “A lot of the science depends on year-after-year collection,” Dr. Kumar said, so gaps in the record may damage data sets built on decades of work. “It’s tragic.”

Robin Elizabeth Bell, a scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said it was impossible to gauge what would be lost because of the shutdown. Though scientists build in time for delays caused by weather and equipment trouble, she said, “field programs in a challenging place like Antarctica do not have the luxury of building in contingencies for closed governments.”

Samantha Hansen, an assistant professor of geological sciences at the University of Alabama, was set to leave for Antarctica on Nov. 4. The government agencies she would normally turn to for information are shut down, and she has graduate students whose theses depend on what emerges from the dirt and snow of Antarctica.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” Dr. Hansen said. Equipment that she put in place on previous trips needs to be serviced and repaired this year, and the stored data retrieved; by next year, the sensors could be so deeply covered in snow that the data, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, would be lost forever. “From a financial standpoint, it’s a big loss; from a scientific standpoint, it’s a big loss,” she said. “Frankly, the timing could not have been worse.”


56 Responses to “Climate Science Takes Big Hit from Shutdown”

  1. omnologos Says:

    As the Obama Administration has got plenty of freedom to spend anyway the pittances usually spent for science, I’d not blame or make the Tea Party more important for this.

  2. It is congress that appropriates money and authorizes its spending. They have authorized no spending for the NSF, among many other things they have not authorized spending on. It would be unconstitutional for Obama to act as you claim he has ‘freedom’ to do.

    The reason the congress has not authorized spending is the Tea Party, abetted by Boehner and their 11th hour rule change that prevents anybody except Boehner from bringing the CR bill to the floor.

  3. daveburton Says:

    President Obama and Democrat Senator Harry Reid are practicing government by temper tantrum. They need to grow up and accept reality: the votes simply aren’t there in the U.S. House to appropriate more money for ObamaCare.

    The House has passed a smorgasbord of bills to prevent or end the shutdown, and even a series of “clean” bills to fund key services piecemeal, but the Democrats rejected them all. Reid won’t even permit votes on most of them, and he refuses to negotiate a compromise. Democrats insist on keeping the government shut down, hoping they can blackmail the House into appropriating more money for ObamaCare, which will never happen.

    Obama’s role is to try to make the shutdown as painful as possible, while brazenly blaming Republicans. His administration is “barry-cading” national monuments and private businesses, spending money we don’t have to punish the American people for opposing ObamaCare. They even resorted to denying death benefits to families of fallen soldiers, and keeping patients out of cancer treatment trials, though the resulting PR backlash forced them to back off of some of the worst abuses.

    Obama and Senate Democrats can end the shutdown at any time. The Republican House passed several bills to do just that. The Democrats just need to stop behaving like children, accept that the House is not going to appropriate any more money for ObamaCare, and get on with doing the business they were elected to do.

    • daveburton Says:

      In the meantime, here’s yet another news report from the UK, illustrating why the American people don’t want the federal government in charge of their health care.

      Margaret Hutchon’s health care was… Affordable.
      “Former NHS director dies after operation is cancelled four times at her own hospital”

      • redskylite Says:

        As a British national I will refrain from commenting on US politics, but I will stand up for the UK National Health service. I could cherry pick articles from any hospital (public or private) regarding controversial incidences. As a teenager growing up in the UK in a poor working class environment I was well looked after a car ran into my motorcycle and crushed my hip and leg, and have received a replacement hip without any costs. I would swear by the U.K National Health Service and cannot understand the US system at all. As this is a climate related site, it is totally wrong to even talk about health care, but you ventured into the field. Greenhouse gases are a global problem and the US is no longer the worst offender. We look to China to take the lead on cutting emissions now. As for politics they are just leading to more obfuscation of a straight forward matter.

        • redskylite Says:

          And just because I’m feeling very grumpy today here is a random, cherry picked article about US Hospital errors and deaths, without a National Health program:

          • omnologos Says:

            the NHS is great in the face of huge difficulties (that is, when the patient is at great risk of dying), then provides an awful day-to-day service (where the patient ends up killed by the “cures”). Surely a case study for massive Government programmes, that IMNSHO should concentrate on helping who’s in dire trouble and just let the others fend for themselves, since by definition they can.

            Same applies most likely to climate/weather adaptation.

          • redskylite Says:

            I really do not know what the hell Mr Burton is talking about he sounds like a complete and utter twat. As a teenager I had a grim accident through no fault of my own and my state (the U.K) through historic politics (thank you Aneurin Bevan) patched me up, as in no way at the time, I could not afford private health. I am now well into my 60’s on my way to 70’s and my new adopted country New Zealand has given me a new knee also on the state with excellent heath care. I do not understand your model at all and do not understand your country, principles or systems. I do not understand your resistance to public healthcare or resistance to admitting man made climate change. Most of all I cannot understand why you cannot accept the global problem of climate change. I like this site and Peter’s ideas. He seems like a reasonable and rational man – you do not seem rational in any way, just a obsessed political nut. President Obama seems to me as the most decent premier you folks have ever had, you are very lucky to have a great man like him at the helm. Do not through it away.

          • omnologos Says:

            Redskylite -the nhs has changed a lot in the last 30 years

        • daveburton Says:

          Government control of medicine inevitably leads to triage and rationing of health care (a/k/a “death panels”). Government officials end to treat medicine as just another political constituency, in competition for funding with roads and parks and green energy projects and opera houses and teacher pensions. Their big concern is the growing cost of medicine. They’re continually trying to reduce medical expenditures, so that “medical inflation” doesn’t squeeze their ability to spend money on other things. They generally seek to constrain medical inflation to be no higher than the general inflation rate. (Constraining medical inflation is also a primary goal of the Affordable Care Act.)

          What happens in those countries is that they trim costs by price controls and directly restricting medical expenditures. That creates shortages of medical resources, so they prioritize patients and treatments according to various formulae: how long you’ve been waiting, how urgent your case is deemed to be, and various cost-benefit calculations in which the cost of the procedure you need is divided by your expected lifespan, or weighted by your “quality of life,” etc.

          If you’re a healthy teen in a car accident, those calculations work out pretty well for you. But if you’re an 85yo needing a new knee, it’s not so good.

          That’s why Canadians often wait months for a CT or MRI scan (sometimes while their suspected cancer metastasizes), or years for gall bladder surgery. It’s also why the UK euthanizes very severely handicapped newborns:

          It’s also the attitude that President Obama reflected, in his famous “take a pill” remark to Jane Sturm:

          • omnologos Says:

            another thing we are seeing with the NHS (the BBC, the Police, etc) is that unelected State bodies quickly become their own mafias, with codes of silence and institutional lying and cheating, all for the good of the community of course.

            That’s another lesson that ought be learned before agreeing to let the State decide how much CO2 we can emit.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            Private healthcare for most is not simply a doctor-patient-specialist – the insurance company gets involved and will act as a death panel when it suits them.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      You have a strange idea of who’s doing the blackmailing in Congress.

    • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

      This is one of the most surreal untruths you have ever uttered.
      Is there any point to your existence, besides being a laughing stock?

      Your brain is irreparably broken beyond belief – your denial, ideology and dogmatic insistence in manufacturing your own reality and then trying and failing to reconcile it with everyone else’s is not just irrational, it is dangerous.

      You and your Grand Obsolete Party represent and personify the greatest threat to humanity, by having morphed into an unrecognizable band of desperate extremists that really would gamble with the planet for the sake of its brain-dead ideology using all means including extortion, blackmail, cynical manipulation and preventing the solutions we need to deal with the *real* threats we face, not the ones that you imagine.

      This is not the behaviour normally associated with mature educated adults.

  4. […] The Republican War on Science is no small part of the motivation congress has to shut down government. Part of the Tea Party narrative is that righteous God-fearing, science denying 'Merricuns ar…  […]

  5. The trolls have derailed the topic as usual. Climate research affected by shutdown. See if you can manage to remember that. We have seen these kinds of interruptions of scientific measurements before. The earliest measurements of co2 were affected by funding shortages. Now all kinds of research is affected.

  6. For the record, a small splinter faction of the Republican Party has refused to pass legislation to pay for legislation already enacted. Same tried unsuccessfully to repeal existing legislation, to wit, the affordable care act, 40 times! Having failed to do that, and seeing that ACA is now starting enrollment, they are disparate to stop ACA. In a brazen attempt at subverting democratic principles, they are attempting to blackmail democracy by forcing a government shutdown to get their way. Upon being surprised by the backlash in polling numbers, finding ACA more popular as a result of the shutdown, and blame falling on them, they changed their tune to hide their intent to kill ACA. Complaints about ACA on these pages are evidence of their real intent. They are willing to take down the whole nation despite being a minority vote. Also, it may bring the whole world into a recession. And of course, AGW research is affected. But their intent to be anarchists and selfishly irresponsible was noted long ago. They want to eliminate government entirely so they can be “free”.
    There will be a reckoning.

  7. trevayne10 Says:

    You can do all the Leninist doubletalk and false burlesque, Pomo-Proggy false-flagging you want:

    “Part of the Tea Party narrative is that ‘righteous God-fearing, science denying ‘Merricuns are targets of Godless watermelon commie scientists and their pesky facts and data.”

    Let’s rephrase it without the false burlesque, and something closer to the truth emerges:

    American consumers are indeed targets of the Leftist-socialist ‘Green’ scientists and their neo-Bolshevik, inhumane, elitist agenda, armed with their skewed, Left-biased datasets.

    The term ‘Watermelon’ is indeed apt, as these fraudulent, elitist Greens are indeed RED/socialist on the inside, and Green on the outside.

    Now, go ahead and false-project and polarize with more Leninist doubletalk and pseudo burlesque. Heard it all before, sick to death of these typical, duplicitous Leftist journalistic ambush tactics.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      wow. I couldn’t have asked for clearer confirmation.
      thanks for that!

    • MorinMoss Says:

      “Leninist doubletalk”??? “Pseudo-burlesque??”, “Left-biased datasets?!?!?!”

      Omnologos frequently chides us for comments that, as he puts it, “do not elevate the discussion”.
      I wonder what he would say to this gem of yours.

      Here’s my own remark / retort – whatever it is you’re smoking is probably not legal even in Colorado.

      • omnologos Says:

        Italian politics has got its own plentiful supplies of silliness, but as a non-American I am always struck how the rabid liberal and the rabid conservative use the exact same writing style, only replacing a few words here and there.

        Somebody ought have written somewhere an automated generator of Mother Jones/Rush Limbaugh invectives…

      • trevayne10 Says:

        Standard, kneejerk Daily Kos / Huffpo Alinsky responses.

        Do you …creatures… really imagine yourselves to be daring & innovative? You’re all in lockstep. Same silly Pomo bromides, similar DNC-Bolshey sloganeering, same ad hom trigger points.

        What a yawner you people are. You’re like a termite hive. Seriously. All in lockstep.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          I was wondering how long it would take you to throw up Alinsky.
          So tell us, was he a Leninist or pseudo-burlesque?

          Any other regurgitated rightwingnut talking points you’d like to copy / paste now or will you just keep repeating the same old diatribes?

          If we’re boring you and you have nothing to add to the nothing you’ve already wasted our time with, just run along before you get covered in termites.

  8. trevayne10 Says:

    All too easy. My work here is done.

  9. trevayne10 Says:

    Aussie PM: carbon tax is ‘socialism’

    Australia’s newly elected prime minister Tony Abbott pulled no punches when giving his thoughts on the country’s carbon tax, which he says must be abolished as quickly as possible.

    “The carbon tax is bad for the economy and it doesn’t do any good for the environment,” Abbott told The Washington Post. “Despite a carbon tax of $37 a ton by 2020, Australia’s domestic emissions were going up, not down. The carbon tax was basically socialism masquerading as environmentalism, and that’s why it’s going to get abolished.”

    Read more:

    And socialism is exactly what you duplicitous, doubletalking Leftist ideologues are all about. You couldn’t give a rat’s @ss about the environment. You’re all about totalitarianism and control over *OTHER* peoples’ lives. “Green” and “carbon tax” and “footprint” are simply your neo-Bolshevik Trojan Horses.

    Now, let the Leninist ad homs and deflections begin. Swarm, eco-Stalinists, SWARM!

    • MorinMoss Says:

      All the great democracies practice “socialism” to some degree and are better for it.

      And the people who most depend on what “socialism” gives them and fight against it don’t always realize it.

      “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”

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