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UPDATE: USAP plans for the upcoming Antarctic season


June 11, 2020

NSF is committed to being supportive and as responsive as possible to the needs of the research community in the face of challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic.  Please consult the NSF website regularly for up-to-date information and answers to Frequently Asked Questions: https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/coronavirus/.

The Office of Polar Programs (OPP) recognizes the particular challenges that COVID-19 poses for the Antarctic research community and wishes to update you with the following additional information to supplement that previously released:

We have had the opportunity to hear from many of you during the last six weeks as we worked to plan the upcoming season, and we appreciate your feedback.

All three USAP Antarctic Stations continue operating safely, and no indications of the virus have been detected.  The research vessel RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer is in port in the United States, and the RV Lawrence M. Gould has completed its transit South to put the winter Palmer Station crew in place following a three-week quarantine on the vessel in Punta Arenas, Chile.

The U.S. Antarctic Program stands with other Nations in our commitment to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 to the continent.

Activities that will be supported during the upcoming season are as follows: 

The highest priority for the upcoming season is to ensure the safe and continuous operation of all three USAP stations and to resupply them for the winter period that begins in February of 2021. In addition to the need to supply for winter, keeping the stations operational is essential, or future research would be impacted for several years. To meet that objective, we will be conducting crew turnover, resupply, and critical maintenance and repair activities at all three stations beginning in August.

The number of deployers that we can safely accommodate is limited by the need to adhere to protocols required to ensure the virus is not transported to our stations.

In addition to this work, USAP will support the following additional activities:

  • Station-based activities that will allow us to avoid irreversible damage to science and operational infrastructure.
  • Statutorily required monitoring related to the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Convention Act and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  • Planned vessel cruises that do not require station support.

In addition, there are nearly twenty science projects that have instrumentation in Antarctica that can be maintained and operated by the Antarctic Support Contractor.  We will work closely with investigators involved to ensure continued data collection. 

All other deployments related to science activities and planned AIMS construction will be postponed to future years.  We realize that this curtailment of the USAP research program will impact many of you, and we are committed to working with everyone affected to map out a path forward.

The Antarctic Sciences (ANT) and Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics (AIL) Sections within OPP will be hosting additional virtual office hours in the near future to further update the academic community regarding NSF’s current operations and plans for the season. FAQs from these office hours are available at https://www.nsf.gov/geo/opp/ant/virtualhours%20_qanda.jsp.

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2020 budget of $8.3 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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