Chapter I

Introduction and Background

A. Reason for Review

For the last 35 years, U.S. policy has consistently called for an active and influential presence in the Antarctic. This presence, implemented through the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), is embodied in year-round scientific and support activities on the continent and in the surrounding waters. The National Science Foundation (NSF) manages the $196M USAP as directed by Presidential Memorandum 6646.

In September 1995 the Senate VA, HUD, Independent Agencies Appropriations Committee (Report 104-140) asked the National Science and Technology Council to review U.S. Antarctic policy. As requested by the Committee, the policy review should

...examine the validity of the policy contained in Memorandum 6646, namely the need for a year-round presence, the need for three stations, and the roles of the NSF, Department of Defense, and other Government agencies. The review should examine the policy in the context of the value of the science performed in Antarctica and other U.S. interests. Finally, the review should address the affordability of continued U.S. presence in Antarctica in light of the severe budget environment and examine options for reducing annual logistical and operational budget needs. At a minimum, budget saving options should include greater international cooperation, less than a year-round human presence, and closing of one or more of the stations.

This document provides background information on U.S. Antarctic policy, describes how the United States implements current policy, describes the scientific program of the USAP, discusses options for reducing costs, and sets forth specific recommendations that address the broad policy issues raised in the Senate Committee Report.

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B. History of U.S. Involvement in the Antarctic

The first U.S. Government activity in the Antarctic was the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, which mapped, for the first time, 1,500 miles of the coast. Historians credit the expedition with establishing that Antarctica is a continent.

In this century, Richard E. Byrd's hugely popular, privately financed expeditions in 1928-1930 and 1933-1935 led to Congressional appropriations of $350,000 in 1939 and 1940 for the United States Antarctic Service (USAS), organized as a civilian service under four cabinet agencies. USAS was to establish and continuously occupy bases to be used "in the investigations and survey of natural resources of the land and sea areas of the Antarctic regions." The service was to have had a large scope. However, it was shortened to a single Antarctic winter and two summers because of World War II. The field work in 1939-1941 nevertheless was the largest Antarctic expedition up to that time, and it produced significant discoveries in a number of research disciplines.

After the war the U.S. Navy Antarctic Developments Project (Operation Highjump) in 1946-1947 was by far the largest Antarctic expedition ever, with more than 4,700 naval and marine personnel, 44 observers, 13 ships, and several aircraft. The expedition observed more than 1.5 million square miles of Antarctica, half of it previously unexplored, and took 15,000 aerial photographs. The following season the U.S. Navy Second Antarctic Developments Project (Operation Windmill) used ship-based helicopters to get geodetic ground control for the aerial photographs. The expedition contributed to production of the first medium-scale maps of the region and influenced decisions regarding locations of stations for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) that occurred 12 years later. At a time when other nations had embarked on programs of permanent bases, the U.S. Navy Second Antarctic Developments Project also was a vehicle for continuing the U.S. presence in Antarctica.

In 1954-55 the United States began investigating sites for stations for the IGY, 1 July 1957 to 31 December 1958. The following austral summer it established the McMurdo Sound Air Operation Facility. Of the 65 IGY Antarctic research stations established by 12 nations, the United States operated seven, including the prestigious and scientifically valuable, but operationally challenging, site at the geographic South Pole. The National Science Foundation funded IGY work through the National Academy of Sciences, and the Department of Defense separately funded and provided operational support. International ties strengthened by the IGY, as well as, beginning in 1948, U.S. calls for an international solution to tensions created by territorial claims, led to a meeting in Washington, D.C., in December 1959 at which the 12 Antarctic IGY nations drafted and signed the Antarctic Treaty (see Appendix I), guaranteeing freedom of access for science and other peaceful purposes.

All 12 nations agreed to pursue significant research questions raised during the IGY. The Urgent Deficiency Appropriation Act of FY 1958 provided NSF with $2M for the "post-IGY continuing Antarctic scientific program." NSF established an Interdepartmental Committee for Antarctic Research as well as memoranda of agreement with elements of DoD for operations. The Bureau of the Budget (now OMB) on 3 August 1960 issued Circular A-51, "Planning and conduct of the United States program for Antarctica," directing NSF to "continue to exercise the principal coordinating and management role in the development and carrying out of an integrated U.S. scientific program for Antarctica." The National Academy of Sciences established a Committee on Polar Research (now the Polar Research Board) to provide advice and to establish U.S. representation on the nongovernmental Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research of the International Council of Scientific Unions.

Following the IGY the U.S. Antarctic Program was established. Of the seven stations operated during the IGY the United States closed one, transferred one to Argentina and another to Australia, and continued a fourth with New Zealand until 1973. Byrd Station continued year-round operation until 1971, while McMurdo and South Pole stations remain year-round to this day. McMurdo added research to its IGY role of supporting inland stations, remote camps, and overland research traverses. Biology, geology, and mapping were added to the geophysics disciplines begun in the IGY. In 1965 Palmer Station was established along the Antarctic Peninsula. The research ship Hero was acquired in 1968, adding ocean-research capability to the ice-strengthened research ship Eltanin, which operated from 1962 to 1972. OMB revised Circular A-51 in 1971 to direct NSF to fund DoD support "on a mutually acceptable reimbursement or nonreimbursement basis." R/V Polar Duke replaced the smaller, wood motorsailer Hero in 1984, and the new research icebreaker R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer in 1992 replaced the Eltanin. In addition to the stations and vessels, other improvements included the LC-130 (ski-equipped Hercules) in 1960, intercontinental C-141 operations in the 1970s and C5s in the 1980s. The 1990s have seen improvements in waste management, operational efficiency, and communications. Research interest in the Antarctic has greatly increased, and the number of each year's field projects has risen from about 35 in the 1960s to 130 in the 1990s.

In 1982 the President, accelerating the process begun with the 1971 revision to A-51, told NSF to manage the Program and to use commercial support if cost-effective and in the national interest. Presidential Memorandum 6646 (see Appendix II) states that the NSF should "budget for and manage the entire United States national program in Antarctica, including logistic support activities so that the program may be managed as a single package." NSF was also instructed to "draw upon logistic support capabilities of government agencies on a cost reimbursable basis." U.S. presence in Antarctica was to include, "yearround occupation of the South Pole and two coastal stations." In August 1995, the National Science Board recommended that "NSF maintain all appropriate logistical capabilities to support the U.S. Antarctic Program, including necessary support from DoD, to sustain active U.S. presence in the Antarctic."

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C. Current Scope of the U.S. Antarctic Program

Each year the USAP deploys approximately 2,500 scientists and support personnel to Antarctica and its surrounding seas to support research in many disciplines, including aeronomy and astrophysics, atmospheric chemistry, biology, earth sciences, ocean and climate systems, glaciology, and environmental research. In FY95 and FY96, researchers came from institutions in 26 states and the District of Columbia. (See Appendix III.)

The National Science Foundation funds and manages the following major facilities as an integrated system for the support of research and related activities:

(i) McMurdo Station, the main U.S. facility, on Ross Island, coast of Antarctica (summer population 1,100; winter, 230)

(ii) Amundsen-Scott Station at the geographic South Pole (summer population 145; winter, 28)

(iii) Palmer Station, on Anvers Island immediately west of the Antarctic Peninsula (summer population 45; winter, 10)

(iv) the 219-ft ice-strengthened research ship Polar Duke (year-round)

(v) the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 309-foot research vessel with icebreaking capability (year-round)

(vi) a U.S. Coast Guard Polar-class icebreaker (399 ft) for icebreaking, channel tending, and supply-ship escort in McMurdo Sound and for additional support and science functions (austral summer)

(vii) Military Sealift Command ice-strengthened cargo and tank ships (one each, once per year) for cargo and fuel delivery to and waste removal from McMurdo

(viii) LC-130 ski-equipped airplanes operated by the Navy and the Air Guard (August and October-March)

(ix) contract operation of smaller (e.g., Twin Otter) research and support airplanes (austral summer)

(x) contract helicopter operations (austral summer)

(xi) specially equipped aircraft, balloons, satellites, and other remote-sensing platforms

(xii) unattended, automated weather stations (50) and geophysical observatories (4)

(xiii) roughly 30 field camps each austral summer placed widely across the continent as required for specific research projects

More information about the science and supporting facilities is in Chapter III. For information on USAP costs, see Chapter IV.

The Breathing of the Atmosphere

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D. Antarctic Activities of Other Federal Agencies

The President's Memorandum also states that, "Other agencies may, however, fund and undertake directed shortterm programs of scientific activity . . . . Such activities shall be coordinated within the framework of the National Science Foundation logistics support."

NASA's Antarctic work includes suborbital studies of cosmic radiation and the Sun, study and archiving of meteorites, microbial studies with extraterrestrial applications, sea ice and ice sheet studies, stratospheric measurements related to ozone, a synthetic-aperture radar ground station, technology development (e.g., a food growth and waste recycling system for South Pole Station), and human factors including isolation and confinement and other analog studies; annual NASA funding is about $6M. NOAA funds Antarctic climate monitoring, ozone studies, remote sensing (e.g., sea surface temperature, atmospheric temperature, cloud imagery), sea ice and iceberg analyses, and marine living resources research at about $4M per year. The U.S. Geological Survey performs Antarctic mapping, geology, geophysics, glaciology, and long-term ecological monitoring at about $2M per year. The Department of Energy and the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics fund astrophysics in the Antarctic at $140,000 and $115,000 per year.

Other agencies dealing with Antarctic matters include the U.S. Coast Guard, the Marine Mammal Commission, the Department of State (international representation, the U.S. role under the Antarctic Treaty, and chairing the interagency policy mechanism), the Environmental Protection Agency (environmental advice and oversight), and the Council on Environmental Quality (environmental protection policy).

With NSF funding, the Department of the Interior provides leasing services for non-DoD aircraft; the Naval Electronics Command, satellite communications expertise; the Department of Transportation, icebreaker operations; and the Department of Defense, as discussed elsewhere in this report, the backbone of Antarctic air and sea logistics. DoD, with close NSF involvement, currently is shifting Antarctic LC-130 operations from the Navy to the New York Air National Guard as the Navy implements its planned withdrawal from the U.S. Antarctic Program.

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E. NSF Contributions to Arctic Research

NSF also supports significant scientific research in the Arctic. There are often relationships between research activities supported in the Arctic and the Antarctic (for example, in glaciological and auroral studies). However, there are important differences in NSF's mandates for the two polar regions.

With respect to the Arctic, NSF is one of a number of Federal agencies with responsibilities for arctic research and logistics. Since the U.S. has territory in the Arctic, support of Arctic research is similar to that carried out in other parts of the country, with Federal agencies performing or supporting research relevant to their missions. Twelve Federal agencies supported arctic research and associated activities in FY 95 at a combined level of $175M; NASA and NSF are the largest funders at more than $40M each. These figures do not include Arctic research supported by the State of Alaska and the private sector. NSF, in addition to its general role of supporting fundamental research and education in science and engineering, has responsibilities for promoting interagency coordination of arctic research, including chairing the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee under the Arctic Research and Policy Act.

In carry out this mandate NSF benefits from the advice of the interagency Antarctic Policy Group, National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council, Polar Research Board, and the National Science Board (see Appendix V). With respect to Antarctica, NSF's mandate is to budget for and manage the entire U.S. national program, including operational support, so that the Program can be managed as a single package. The Program, therefore, is designed to support the full range of U.S. national interests in Antarctica.

Emperors of the Antarctic

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