UNITED STATES ANTARCTIC PROGRAM:
SUMMARY AND BACKGROUND
At McMurdo Station, Ross Island, the flags of the Antarctic Treaty nations surround a bust of American exploer Admiral Richard Byrd. NSF/USAP photo by Karolyn Eisenstein.
Office of Polar Programs
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard Arlington, Virginia 22230
703-292-8030 phone; 703-292-9080 fax
a. White House Memorandum 6646 (1982)
b. Presidential Decision Directive NSC-26 (1994)
c. President's National Science and Technology Council review (1996)
d. U.S. Antarctic Program External Panel (1997)
a. Peace. Antarctica has been reserved for peace as a result of international cooperation stimulated in part by a 1948 U.S. international initiative, by U.S. leadership during the 1957–1958 International Geophysical Year, and by the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959 by 12 nations in Washington, D.C.
b. Knowledge. Research since the IGY has provided the basic understanding of Antarctica and its key role in global processes. Antarctica is the last continent to be explored and studied; more than 90 percent of the world's antarctic research literature has been published in the 45 years since the IGY.
c. Leadership. Through its y ear-round presence in Antarctica and participation in international antarctic affairs, the United States has maintained scientific and political leadership and assured U.S. participation in future uses of the region.
a. Largest ocean current. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current transports 130 million cubic meters of water per second towards the east, making it the mightiest of the ocean’s currents. It influences formation of cold, dense, and nutrient-rich bottom water that extends throughout much of the world ocean and is a key to understanding change in world ocean circulation and its influence on global climate.
b. Marine ecosystem. Research on the marine ecosystem around Antarctica helps to understand levels of harvesting that can take place without damaging the ecosystem and is providing an understanding of the strong coupling in the Southern Ocean between climate processes and ecosystem dynamics.
c. Sea ice. The annual eightfold growth and decay of sea ice around Antarctica has been termed the greatest seasonal event on Earth. It affects regional climate and the global heat budget. Particularly near the edges, it nurtures some of the world’s most productive ecosystems.
d. Ozone hole. Starting in 1979, ozone in the stratosphere over Antarctica has been observed almost to disappear every austral spring. Everywhere else, stratospheric ozone depletions are only incremental. Stratospheric ozone keeps much of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the Earth’s surface, and the ozone hole has received widespread attention.
e. Polar adaptations of biota. Antarctic cold, desert conditions, and annual light cycles have led to molecular, biochemical, and physiological adaptations that have enabled biota to survive, reproduce, and indeed thrive under environmental extremes not experienced elsewhere. Studies provide basic understanding of these unique adaptations and are leading to understanding how changes in populations can shed insight into changing climate.
f. Atmospheric background levels. Antarctica is the planet’s farthest region from human population centers and records the world’s background levels of atmospheric constituents. Measurements since 1956 at the geographic South Pole have documented changes in world levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Measurements in the data-sparse Southern Hemisphere are important to understanding and predicting world levels of these gases and their impact on (or forerunner to) climate change.
g. Weather and climate. The unbroken collection of weather data from manned and unmanned stations in Antarctica, now exceeding 40 years for some locations, provides a data base and real-time information from which to make operational forecasts, study the dynamics of the antarctic atmosphere, and chart the progress of human-induced global warming.
h. Ice sheets and ice shelves. Antarctica’s ice sheets contain 90 percent of the world’s ice. This ice is 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. Melted, it would raise sea level 65 meters (200 feet).
i. Polar landmass. Almost 10 percent of the Earth's continental crust resides in Antarctica. The continent is old and stable and has been in a near-polar position for over 100 million years. It thus contains unique high latitude environmental records of a time when Earth changed from greenhouse to icehouse conditions. The landmass is different from the other continents in that Antarctica's crustal structure—or its underlying mantle—has allowed the continent to remain essentially fixed on Earth's surface for a long time.
j. Astronomy by balloon. Antarctica's summer weather provides a stable ride for instruments suspended from a balloon, which floats around Antarctica at a steady height above most of the atmosphere, providing a cheap way to get scientific experiments into near-space.
k. Astrophysics and astronomy from the surface. The cold, clean, dry atmosphere over the South Pole provides viewing conditions that in some wavelengths are equal to those in space. South Pole Station has become a major astronomy and astrophysics center.
a. Number of research projects. Research and related activities are being supported in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the following areas. A few of these projects are described in this section. There are 156 projects. In the table, the columns do not sum because a few projects are active at more than one location.
b. Long-term ecological research (LTER). Two sites in Antarctica—in the McMurdo Dry Valleys and along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula centered on Palmer Station—are among the world’s 25 NSF-sponsored LTER sites being investigated to increase understanding of ecological phenomena over long temporal and large spatial scales (all but one of the other sites are in the United States).
c. West Antarctica GPS Network. Researchers are deploying Global Positioning System transceivers across the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—an area the size of the United States from the Rockies to the Pacific. Measurements of motions of the Earth's crust in the bedrock around and under the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are critical to understanding the dynamics of the ice sheet and its potential role in global change, and they improve understanding of Antarctica's role in global plate motions. WAGN complements existing GPS projects by filling a gap in coverage among crustal blocks that make up West Antarctica.
d. Latitudinal Gradient Project. In Victoria Land, investigators will examine marine, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats from 72o to 86oS, studying the relationship of linear and nonlinear changes and how they affect the creatures that live through them, and then how the life forms will be affected as climate changes in the region.
e. South Pole astrophysics. Telescopes at the South Pole are continuing investigations of the origins of the universe. For example, the degree angular scale interferometer (DASI) has been measuring the cosmic microwave background at the South Pole since 1999-2000 and has precisely measured minuscule variations in afterglow of the Big Bang, verifying the theoretical framework that underlies the modern scientific concept of how the universe came into being. The discovery is so fundamental that it also may provide a key to an even keener understanding of the origins of the universe. In 2003, DASI will measure the currently undetected polarization of the CMB anisotropy to test the standard theory of the early universe. Team members are reconfiguring DASI from 30 giga-Hertz (GHz) to 100 GHz for intensity and polarization measurements of the fine-scale CMB anisotropy power spectrum. 
f. Arcminute Cosmology Bolometer Array Receiver. This instrument, installed at the South Pole in late 2000, is measuring temperature differences in the cosmic microwave background—the faint afterglow of the Big Bang. By December 2002 the project hadthe most detailed images of the early Universe ever recorded—evidence supporting the favored model in which 30 percent of all energy is dark matter that doesn’t interact with light and 65 percent is dark energy accelerating the expansion of the Universe. The instrument’s sensitivity rivals that of balloon-borne experiments, and it has an angular resolution they cannot hope to achieve.
g. Snow megadunes. Megadunes of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet are subtle features, 2 to 4 meters in amplitude over a 2 to 4 kilometer wavelength and just recently receiving significant research attention, that may affect the interpretation of climate in deep ice cores. Investigators are conducting ground penetrating radar surveys, global positioning surveys, firn cores, pit sampling, automatic weather station installation, and snow permeability experiments to determine physical and chemical characteristics of the dunes to help understand their significance, including the effect on ice cores.
h. Planet search. Using an optical telescope and a photometer, scientists at South Pole Station are searching for the periodic dimming that happens when a planet transits its parent star. Because the geographic South Pole features constant altitude of a stellar field and does not have large daily variations in the atmosphere, the investigators hope to detect 10 to 15 extrasolar planets over the next two winters, and they see the potential for a tenfold increase in the number of extrasolar planets for which transits are observed.
i. Infrared measurement of the atmosphere. Winter measurements of atmospheric chemistry will provide data for predicting ozone depletion and climate change. Since most satellites do not sample polar regions in winter, these ground-based measurements are expected to make important contributions.
j. Weddell seal population dynamics. Weddell seals in McMurdo Sound have been studied since 1968—one of the longest intensive field investigations of long-lived mammals anywhere. More than 15,000 animals have been tagged, and 145,000 resightings have been recorded. The project is a resource for understanding the population dynamics of not only Weddell seals, but also other species of terrestrial and marine mammals. New work this season includes assessing the role of food resources in limiting the populations.
k. Foraminifera studies by remote control. Research divers have detailed summer “snapshots” of the ecology of giant (>1mm) foraminifera in McMurdo Sound, but winter observations are needed when algae are not growing. This project will install an unmanned underwater observatory, connect it to shore by fiber optic cable, and link it through the Internet to a lab in the United States for operation and data collection all year long.
l. Genomic study of invertebrates. Cold-ocean ecosystems are 72 percent of Earth’s biosphere by volume, yet they are sparsely inhabited and relatively unexploited. Environmental adaptations of the few animals that manage to exist on this verge of intracellular freezing are ideal subjects for exploration at the genomic level. This project will quantify gene expression in sea stars and sea urchins to find out if it is more or less difficult for an organism to grow in a polar extreme. To interest students in the developing field of environmental genomics, the project will have an intern program for minority students and a K-12 education program.
m. Seismograph. The world’s quietest earthquake detector is 8 kilometers from the South Pole, 300 meters beneath the ice sheet surface. Completed in 2002, the station is detecting vibrations four times smaller than those recorded previously. Other seismographs have been there since 1957, and long-term, high-latitude data have helped to prove that the Earth’s solid inner core spins faster than the rest of the planet. Also, Antarctica is the continent with the fewest earthquakes, so the new station will record small regional earthquakes, leading to new insights into the Antarctic Plate.
n. Dinosaurs in the Transantarctic Mountains. A study of fossil dinosaurs from the Triassic and the Jurassic is under way along with related studies by other investigators at sites near the Hanson Formation in the southern Transantarctic Mountains. The area is the only location in Antarctica that has yielded dinosaur fossils. Antarctic vertebrates such as these will provide a unique opportunity to study the evolution of high-latitude fauna.
o. Reedy Glacier history. A two-season effort at Reedy Glacier in the southern Transantarctic Mountains should help to establish whether the West Antarctic Ice Sheet stopped retreating thousands of years ago or still is getting smaller. The Reedy Glacier is above the grounding line (where land ice goes afloat on the ocean), so its surface slope and elevation should record changes in the thickness of grounded ice in the Ross Sea up to the present, whereas previous work was on other glaciers north of the grounding line, where size-change data up to the present cannot be obtained.
a. Science support center. Phase 1 of a new science support center entered operation in 2002.
b. Building 58 demolition. The old science support facility (building 58), one of McMurdo’s oldest and least efficient structures, is being removed.
c. Waste-heat recapture. A multiyear project is under way to capture McMurdo power plant waste heat for:
d. Joint Space Operations Center. This multistory building near the center of McMurdo, funded by NASA and NSF, has been erected and when complete will enable consolidation of much of McMurdo’s satellite ground station activities.
e. McMurdo power plant upgrade. Design is complete, and procurement is underway, for replacement of generators and improvements to electrical distribution systems. The upgrade will move some equipment to the water plant to permit redundancy in the case of loss of one of the buildings.
f. McMurdo gasoline tanks. Site preparation will begin for two new 250,000-gallon gasoline storage tanks scheduled for assembly next year.
g. South Pole Modernization Project. Major renovation is under way to replace most of the 26-year-old South Pole Station’s central facilities, which have exceeded their design life, and cannot meet projected science demands. Construction to date has included a new fuel storage facility, a new garage and shop, a new electric power plant, some of the living facilities, station services, medical facilities, and science labs. Additional wings are being erected this season. The station is scheduled for completion in 2007.
h. Palmer Station improvements. An upgrade, lasting several years, of the two major buildings at Palmer Station essentially has been completed, increasing the effectiveness of science support and living facilities. A ground station installed in 2002 has extended the station’s Internet communications to 24 hours per day. Replacement of, or major repair to, the station’s pier is being studied.
a. Cradle-to-grave management of supply/waste stream
b. Source-point sorting and removal of all solid and hazardous waste from Antarctica, of which approximately 65 percent is recycled
c. Environmental monitoring and research
d. Comprehensive spill prevention and cleanup program (e.g., fuel lines and hoses, double-walled or bermed fuel tanks, cleanup training and equipment)
e. Permitting system in place for all scientific and other activities involving antarctic fauna and flora
f. Educational and enforcement procedures for waste management and environmental protection
g. Sewage treatment plant at McMurdo, now fully operational
h. Improvement of management plans for Specially Protected Areas, in cooperation with other Antarctic Treaty nations
i. In compliance with all applicable treaties and U.S. laws
a. Total number of people (Antarctica and ships): +/-3,000
b. Station winter population in 2004 will be about 282—202 at McMurdo, 60 at South Pole, and 20 at Palmer. Additional science and operations personnel will be aboard the research ships Gould and Palmer, which operate year-round.
c. Approximately 70 percent of U.S. Antarctic Program science personnel and >90 percent of operations personnel transit New Zealand and McMurdo
d. About one-fourth of science personnel and <10 percent of operations personnel transit South America to Antarctic Peninsula
a. Palmer (65°S 64°W), Anvers Island, west coast of Antarctic Peninsula
b. McMurdo (78°S 168°E), Ross Island, southwest corner of Ross Sea
c. Amundsen-Scott South Pole (90°S), continental interior at geographic South Pole
a. Siple Dome (Siple Coast, West Antarctica). Geophysics including a GPS array; automatic weather stations.19
b. Byrd Surface (West Antarctica). Automatic weather stations; GPS monitoring of bedrock motion.
c. Beardmore Glacier (southern Transantarctic Mountains). Eight geology and paleontology projects with helicopter and Twin Otter support.
d. Mount Moulton (northern Marie Byrd Land). Two projects studying ice conditions and climate.
e. Megadunes (East Antarctica). Two projects investigating possible effect of dunes on interpretation of ice cores.
f. Moody Nunatak (Transantarctic Mountains). Aeromagnetics and geology using helicopters and Twin Otters.
g. Numerous smaller camps.
a. R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer, length 94 meters, icebreaker, purpose-built in 1992 for long-term charter to U.S. Antarctic Program. The ship supports research throughout the Southern Ocean the year-round. Current work, though, is focused on the Ross Sea, and Palmer will call at McMurdo three times in January-February 2004.
b. R/V Laurence M. Gould, 71 meters, ice strengthened, purpose-built in 1997 for long-term charter to U.S. Antarctic Program (replaces R/V Polar Duke, chartered 1984-1997). Year-round research and Palmer Station support.
c. Polar-class, 122 meters, U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker(s). Annual summer channel break-in to McMurdo and some summer-season research support.
d. American Tern, 159 meters, Military Sealift Command chartered ice-classed cargo ship. Annual cargo delivery to, and waste retrograde from, McMurdo.
e. Tanker, Military Sealift Command (MSC) chartered. Annual fuel delivery to McMurdo.
a. McMurdo Sound (78°S), annual sea ice, October–December
b. Pegasus (78°S), prepared glacial ice; previously not used in the warmer summer months, this runway was groomed for year-round use in 2001.
a. Williams Field (78°S), near McMurdo, available year-round
b. South Pole (90°S)
c. Open field (various locations)
13. National Science Foundation
a. Mission. The National Science Foundation is a catalyst for progress through investment in science, mathematics and engineering. The agency is guided by its longstanding commitment to excellence in the support of discovery and learning. NSF provides leadership and stewardship to sustain and strengthen the Nation's science, mathematics, and engineering capabilities and to promote the use of those capabilities in service to society.
b. Organization. NSF, a U.S. Government agency established in 1950, has a staff of 1,200. Science is supported in these major areas: mathematics and physical sciences (including chemistry and astronomy); geosciences (earth, atmosphere, ocean); biological sciences; sociological, behavioral, and economic sciences; engineering; computer sciences and information systems; and polar programs.
c. Primary activity. Scientists, engineers, and educators at U.S. institutions compete for support by submitting proposals that respond to NSF program areas. Annually:
d. Budget (NSF overall). The National Science Foundation requests $5.48-billion for FY 2004, $453-million or 9 percent over the FY 2003 request of $5.03 billion.
e. Budget (NSF antarctic). NSF spending in FY 2003 for the U.S. Antarctic Program was $254.95-million, of which $42.56-million was for research grants, $143.84-million was for operations and science support, and $68.55-million was for logistics. NSF funds about 97 percent of all Federally supported antarctic research and research support.
|U.S. Antarctic Program
aircraft and supply ship operations, 2003-2004 season
For the full text, see appendix B in http://www.polar.org/hq/Pguide04_04/PresMemoRPSC2004Web-9.pdf
“The Southern Ocean,”by Arnold L. Gordon, Current 15(3): 4-6, 1999. The bountiful recent literature on the topic includes “What drove past teleconnections?”by Frank Sirocko, p. 1336-1337, Science, 5 September 2003.
The area of sea ice around Antarctica varies between 1 and 8 million square miles annually. See images 4 and 5 in https://www.nsf.gov/od/opp/antarct/imageset/start.htm
 “Overview of the polar ozone issue,”by Solomon, S.; Schoeberl, M.R.(ed),Geophysical Research Letters, 15(8), p.845-846 (August 1988), introduces a special issue on polar ozone.
 “Montreal Protocol Benefits Cited,”page 395, 30 September 2003 EOS.
http://www.cmdl.noaa.gov/ozwv/ozsondes/spo/ozhole.html (historical significance of the ozone hole)
See, for example, The Adélie Penguin: Bellwether of Climate Change,”Columbia University Press, October 2002 http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/023112/023112306X.HTM
The Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, operates four baseline observatories worldwide, including the one at the South Pole in cooperation with NSF. See http://www.cmdl.noaa.gov/
Russian, French, and U.S. investigators drilled and analyzed the world's deepest ice core (3,650 meters). The core spans four glacial-interglacial cycles, furnishing an unparalleled archive. “Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica,”by J.R. Petit and others, Nature (London), 399(6735), 429-436. European coring at Dome C, East Antarctica, in 2003 reached 3,200 meters, yielding the world’s oldest ice, possibly 1 million years old.
 “Warmer ocean could threaten antarctic ice shelves”(p. 759) and “Larsen Ice Shelf has progressively thinned”(p. 856-859), Science, 31 October 2003, www.sciencemag.org. See also http://nsidc.org/sotc/iceshelves.html.
A microwave telescope borne for 10½ days 120,000 feet over Antarctica provided detailed evidence that the large-scale geometry of the universe is flat (Nature, 27 April 2000). Following the Big Bang 12-15 billion years ago, the universe was smooth, dense, and hot. The intense heat still is detectable as a faint glow called cosmic microwave background radiation. Scientists had sought high-resolution images of the radiation since 1965, when a ground-based radio telescope discovered it. https://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/press/00/pr0025.htm
The University of Chicago (Yerkes Observatory) and 15 institutions from four nations installed telescopes at South Pole Station emphasizing infrared and submillimeter wavelengths. This large project, one of NSF's 24 Science & Technology Centers, in 2001 provided science with the strongest evidence to date for the theory of inflation, the leading model for the formation of the universe. https://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/press/01/pr0138.htm
For each project with an NSF research grant, further information including contact information and grant amount can be found in the Foundation’s searchable grants database, http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/a6/A6SrchAwdf.htm. U.S. Antarctic Program participants also can request access to the 2003-2004 Science Planning Summary, United States Antarctic Program, which describes all projects.
 John Carlstrom, S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, announced the new findings 19 September 2002 at the COSMO-02 conference at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.
The Antarctic Conservation Act, Public Law 95-541, authorizes U.S. regulations for compliance. Seehttps://www.nsf.gov/od/opp/antarct/aca/aca.htm
 http://www.msc.navy.mil/N00p/pressrel/press02/press40.htm (MSC announcement); http://www.amo-union.org/Newspaper/Morgue/10-2002/Sections/News/newjobs.htm (American Maritime Officer news item)
|Last modified: December 2003; Office of Polar Programs|
The National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA