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Press Statement 17-003

Statement on impact of Hurricane Maria on Arecibo Observatory

Jim Ulvestad, NSF acting assistant director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences issues statement

Arecibo staff hold up a Puerto Rico flag with the telescope array in the background.

Arecibo staff after the storm.

September 27, 2017

With winds of 155 miles per hour, Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico Sept. 20. The eye of the storm passed over Arecibo Observatory, which is operated and managed for the National Science Foundation (NSF) by SRI International, Universities Space Research Association (USRA), and Universidad Metropolitana (UMET).

While Arecibo Observatory suffered some damage, initial indications are that the damage was less severe than might have been expected from a storm of the magnitude of Hurricane Maria. Operations at the Observatory are suspended until further notice. NSF Acting Assistant Director Jim Ulvestad issued the following statement to address continued concern.

NSF is deeply concerned about the impact of Hurricane Maria on the people of Puerto Rico, and our thoughts go out to Puerto Rico at this challenging time. The number one priority for NSF is the safety and recovery for Puerto Rico's population and any concerns regarding NSF activities are secondary to that top priority. While we know that there is some damage to Arecibo Observatory, we do not yet know the full extent of the damage. Inspections to assess the infrastructure are underway. Preliminary assessments describe minimal damage in comparison to many other parts of Puerto Rico. As a result of the relatively intact Arecibo Observatory infrastructure, the Observatory is currently being used as a search and rescue hub by FEMA. At this time, we cannot predict when research operations at Arecibo Observatory might resume, however test observations to evaluate performance have begun. After the damage assessments are completed, NSF will evaluate whether any adjustments need to be made to our ongoing environmental review process regarding future operations of Arecibo Observatory. We will provide further updates once we have more information.

UPDATE 10/5/17:

All Arecibo Observatory staff are safe and accounted for. The staff has spent the past week performing cleanup activities as well as inspecting the physical structures and the research equipment. The Observatory sustained less damage than anticipated to equipment and facilities. The radio telescope is already operational and running scientific observations as permitted by available resources. The Observatory has provided hundreds of people within the community clean potable water, and has given support to FEMA officials and search and rescue operations.


Media Contacts
Aya Collins, NSF, (703) 292-7737, email:
Dina Basin, SRI International, (650) 859-3845, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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