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About the Polar Research Support Section

Section Head: Erick Chiang

Besides funding research, the National Science Foundation provides scientists with logistics, operational, and laboratory support in Antarctica. This includes a year-round inland research station at the South Pole (90 south latitude); two year-round coastal research stations (McMurdo at 78S and Palmer at 64S) with extensive laboratory and computing capabilities; summer camps (as required for research); icebreaking research ships--the Laurence M. Gould, (76 meters in length) and Nathaniel B. Palmer (94 meters); U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard air transports; a fleet of ski-equipped LC-130 airplanes; Twin Otter airplanes; helicopters; U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers for channel breaking at McMurdo Station, treaty inspection missions and occasionally as needed for research support; a variety of oversnow vehicles; and automated, unmanned weather and geophysical observatories. Ships of the U.S. academic fleet and the ocean-drilling program on occasions also support research in Antarctica.

Air transport between New Zealand and McMurdo Station is provided several times per week in the austral summer from early October to the end of February. From McMurdo, the logistics hub, parties can access other sites, including the station at the South Pole. Several flights are made in August between New Zealand and McMurdo, providing an opportunity for winter access. Winter flights to McMurdo are feasible if required. Between February and October the summer camps are closed and winter research is limited to the immediate environs of South Pole and McMurdo, where station residents are isolated as long as eight months.

Palmer Station, on Anvers Island in the Antarctic Peninsula region, is logistically isolated from the rest of the United States Antarctic Program and relies mainly on the research ship Laurence M. Gould (during or between research cruises) for transport of passengers and supplies to and from a port at the southern tip of South America. The ship makes several trips throughout the year. Laurence M. Gould provides onboard research support in marine biology, oceanography, and geophysics and can support science in other areas of the Southern Ocean. U.S. antarctic stations and ships provide both voice and data communications (including Internet) with locations outside Antarctica.

Through a contract with NSF, Raytheon Polar Services Company provides a wide range of logistical and science support operations to the United States Antarctic Program. The U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard fly the large air transports like the LC-130s, C-17s and C-141; contractors provide the helicopters and smaller Twin Otter airplanes.

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U.S. Antarctic Program

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construction workers raise steel beam at South Pole Station

In January 2005, construction workers at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station put in place the last piece of structural steel in the new station. (NSF/USAP photo by Carlton Walker, Raytheon Polar Services Corporation.)

 

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