6.0 Findings

The Panel's review of existing policy regarding Antarctica and of ongoing activities in Antarctica has led to 22 findings which are presented in this section of the report.

6.1 Geopolitical Significance

The Panel examined the fundamental question of the value to the nation of the U.S. presence in Antarctica. In so doing, the Panel reviewed the historic basis of U.S. activity in the region, tracing in particular the evolution of U.S. involvement in Antarctica from the International Geophysical Year to the present.

The Antarctic Treaty, which entered into force in 1961, forms the basis of national policy for activity in the region. The Treaty reserves the region for peaceful purposes only; it neither recognizes nor disputes territorial claims and prohibits the assertion of new claims; and it protects the region's environment and ecology. These goals are in the national interest as stated in official documents and studies since the 1920s. The Treaty is the legal underpinning for governance of this non-sovereign territory.

Nevertheless, pre-existing claims of sovereignty still stand. But for the active presence of national research programs and commitment to the spirit of the Treaty, sovereignty claims could threaten peace on the continent and elsewhere. The leadership role of the U.S. in manifesting its presence in Antarctica in accord with the full spirit of the Treaty is instrumental in sustaining this instrument of responsible governance. The U.S. presence is powerfully expressed in the year-round operation of three research stations, and especially the station at the Earth's South Pole and the continent's geopolitical center. The U.S.'s scientific and environmental research in Antarctica give substance and relevance to the national presence.

6.2 Scientific Activity

The Panel concurs with the President's National Science and Technology Council's conclusions that the U.S. scientific effort in Antarctica is equivalent in quality to that conducted in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, and that the science conducted in Antarctica either cannot be performed elsewhere or is best done in Antarctica. Much of this scientific research has potential significance for human health and welfare globally; e.g., studies evaluating the potential collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, an event which could result in an increased rate of sea-level rise; programs to monitor the ozone hole and its potential impact on organisms; and programs aimed at examining the impact of global warming on Antarctica's atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere.

6.3 International Cooperation

The scope of international scientific research in Antarctica has expanded greatly since the field programs of the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year which involved 12 nations. Twenty-eight nations now operate field programs in Antarctica. Seventeen of them in 1995 operated 37 year-round stations; these 17 and other nations also operated summer programs employing ships, aircraft, land facilities, and camps. The nongovernmental Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research of the International Council of Scientific Unions has grown to include 25 full-member nations and seven associate member nations. The Antarctic Treaty has grown from 12 signatories in 1959 to 43 in 1997 of which, in addition to the original 12 signatories, 14 have achieved consultative (voting) status because they pursue significant scientific activity in Antarctica.

Close scientific and logistics cooperation is maintained between the U.S., New Zealand and Italian programs, including shared space in New Zealand, shared transport to the Antarctic, and other cooperation, including that between McMurdo and neighboring New Zealand Scott Base.

A noteworthy example of international cooperation is an ice core project at Russia's Vostok Station in East Antarctica, where about 30 researchers from the U.S., France, and Russia are studying the ice record, expecting to trace back possibly 500,000 years. Studies of ice cores at Vostok already have shown a close link between climate and changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the past 200,000 years. The drilling will penetrate to 12,000 ft. depth, just above Lake Vostok, a subglacial lake beneath Vostok Station. Lake Vostok and any life forms it may contain are hypothesized to have been sealed off from the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years. This program is a shared effort, both logistically and scientifically, among the three nations.

A very large international program underway at South Pole station is AMANDA, the Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array, which utilizes the Antarctic ice sheet as the detector for a neutrino telescope. AMANDA is a collaborative project involving scientists from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the University of California, both the Berkeley and Irvine campuses; the University of Stockholm and the University of Uppsala, both in Sweden; the DESY (German Electron Synchrotron) Laboratory; individual scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

It is evident that substantial effort has been devoted to integrating as closely as possible the operational planning and development of U.S. science programs with those of other nations. The trend is toward increased international collaboration in science.

While international cooperation at the individual and project level has existed for many years and is strongly supported by the Panel, international cooperation in logistics has only recently been regularized among the national programs. This latter form of cooperation is also strongly encouraged by the Panel. The mechanism for increased logistics cooperation is the Standing Committee on Antarctic Logistics and Operations, a sub-committee of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs formed in 1990. Logistics managers from approximately 26 national programs come together annually to coordinate their operations and have increasingly begun to share resources where mutually beneficial. The Panel finds that this increasing cooperation, while perhaps not greatly reducing the cost of national programs, has nonetheless mutually increased the effectiveness of the programs, and should be encouraged.

International funding of basic infrastructure and facilities, however, appears to the Panel to go beyond the authority of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs and into unknown and potentially hazardous legal terrain. The Panel found, considering the geopolitical history of Antarctica outside the reach of the Antarctic Treaty system, that joint funding and/or ownership of infrastructure and facilities may lead to substantial international legal issues while producing little or no fiscal benefit. The Panel is mindful of the experience of the space program in international cooperation, but draws a strong distinction between joint ownership of a space station where there are no territorial issues in contention and the joint ownership of a facility at, say, the South Pole.

6.4 Facilities

As has been noted, Antarctica represents a harsh environment. The U.S. presence on the continent and the science conducted there depend on the specialized infrastructure and logistics capabilities that enable the U.S. Antarctic Program. Indeed, many of the U.S. assets and programs in Antarctica are unparalleled in scope or capability. Key support facilities cannot, however, be viewed as having the same degree of merit, particularly when compared to the relative investments and modern character of facilities supported by other prominent Antarctic nations.

New Zealand's Scott Base, for example, has an infrastructure roughly equivalent to the U.S. South Pole Station. Its coastal location admittedly poses fewer logistical challenges than those confronted at the South Pole, and the scope of New Zealand's scientific research is less broad than that of the U.S. program. Nonetheless, Scott Base is a far more modern and comfortable facility as well as being a safer facility yet is supported by a country with a population roughly one-third that of Los Angeles.

Even recognizing the pioneering nature of Antarctic research and those who pursue it, U.S. facilities in Antarctica, especially at the South Pole, are, in the judgment of the Panel, far below the standards that we demand in our most basic working and living environments within the U.S., including Alaska. Not only are these facilities in Antarctica extremely costly to maintain, but many fail to meet fundamental safety criteria and construction codes and are becoming a growing impediment to the continued conduct of world-class research. Review of maintenance plans and examination of cost data as well as on-site inspections have caused the Panel to conclude that it is impracticable simply to further stretch the life of the current infrastructure at the South Pole.

Many of the facilities at McMurdo Station show serious signs of deterioration. While McMurdo especially, and the U.S. Antarctic Program generally, have made exemplary progress in such areas as waste management, major systems need systematic upgrading to maximize efficiency, minimize operating cost, protect the environment and assure safety. An example is the station's 17 above-ground, steel, bulk fuel storage tanks that were installed between 1955 and 1968. Two additional tanks were built in 1993. The tanks have a combined capacity of 8.7 million gallons. Inspection of the older tanks during the 1992-1993 summer season revealed a large number of fabrication defects and subsequent areas of damage (Exhibit 50). As a result of the inspection, one tank was taken out of service and has not been used since. The inspection report recommended replacing all of the tanks as soon as is practical. Bulk fuel storage needs secondary containment to protect the environment from fuel spills. Complete secondary containment would be difficult and expensive to apply to the tanks currently located on hillsides above the station, yet effective secondary containment should be incorporated.

Photo: McMurdo's tank farm

Exhibit 50

Most of McMurdo's tank farm is old, and many tanks require repair or replacement to safeguard the fuel supply (delivered once per year by ship) and the local environment.


The kitchen and dining hall in building 155, which feeds everyone on the station, has health-related deficiencies. Building 58, the mechanical equipment center, presents a fire- and life-safety risk. Warehousing is in 15 dedicated buildings and 10 other buildings with some warehouse space; none has sanitary facilities, and the disparate locations require extra vehicle use and employee time. The energy efficiency of many facilities is low; maintenance of numerous poorly insulated, small structures consumes additional fuel.


6.5 Provisions for Capital Asset Replenishment

The Panel concludes that the lack of a clear process to systematically identify and budget for capital renewal of Antarctic facility components has led, and will continue to lead, to erosion of the USAP physical infrastructure. A major issue is the inability within the NSF budgeting process to make provisions for out-year funding that can be dedicated to systematic infrastructure modernization. These costs cannot be accommodated on a year-to-year ad hoc basis by merely curtailing research activity during the years when major failures occur or investment demands become otherwise acute. Most major infrastructure modernization projects will by their very nature be multi-year and represent significant costs, the burden of which should be spread over time or otherwise funded.

6.6 Life-Extension of Existing South Pole Facilities

The fundamental infrastructure of the current South Pole facility was constructed in the 1970s. It replaced the original South Pole Station which was built in the era of the International Geophysical Year; that is, the late 1950s. The original station had a useful life of approximately 20 years. It was built on-grade, was plagued with drifting snow, became buried, eventually failed structurally and has now been buried completely by snow nonetheless having served as the first permanent research platform and habitat at the Pole. The current station was also built on grade but uses metal arches and a geodesic dome as its fundamental structural components. The dome provides a relatively large, covered area protected from winds and drifting snow (Exhibit 51). The adjacent arches provide strong structures able to better withstand snow burial for major support components such as power generators, fuel storage and maintenance.

Photo: South Pole Station

Photo: South Pole Station

Exhibit 51

Snowfall at the South Pole is less than a foot a year (which compacts to four inches of ice), but drifting is continuous and any surface object accumulates drift. The geodesic dome was built on the surface in the early 1970s; the footings now are some 20 feet below the adjacent drift. The upper picture shows upwind drift, with typical wind scour. The weight of downwind drift (which does not scour) in 1989 snapped the steel foundation ring, since repaired. It is becoming increasingly difficult to control the drift with dozers. As has happened with earlier Antarctic facilities built on snow, the surrounding terrain of gradually rising snow (lower photo, made February 1997) will eventually collapse against the dome and other structures and will impose unacceptable loads.


As the research activity at the Pole expanded, three modern elevated structures (Exhibit 52) were constructed, one for berthing and the others for science, and a water well system (Exhibit 53) was added that In dramatically increased the water available for use under the dome. Expansion of the summer population was handled through the use of Jamesway (Quonset-hut-like) structures for berthing (Exhibit 54).

Photo: Elevated structures at South Pole Station

Exhibit 52

Elevated structures at South Pole Station. Modeling and analysis provide convincing evidence that structures on stilts will minimize snow accumulation. This astronomy research facility with two telescope platforms, the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory, was dedicated in 1994. Closed-cell-foam insulation and solar panels dramatically reduce fuel requirements. The observatory is across the skiway from the dome and its associated central station facilities.

Illustration: South Pole Water Well

Exhibit 53

South Pole water well. South Pole Station sits on an unlimited supply of clean, fresh water all of it frozen. Until 1994, traditional surface snowmelter technology was employed. This approach was labor intensive, cumbersome, and created a safety issue during daily trips to the "snow mine" in the austral winter. It only minimally met station needs.

Subsurface water reservoirs were first built in the 1960s for camps in Greenland. A similar design for South Pole was installed in 1992-93. The concept involves melting firn/ice at depth, creating a reservoir that can be pumped to the surface as needed. The impermeable firn/ice is both a container and an insulator. Being isolated, such a water well is less prone to contamination than is surface snow.

The well was made using a hot water drill to bore a one-ft. diameter hole to a depth of 230 ft. At this depth, the hot water jet melted an initial "bulb" of water. The drill was then replaced with a pump and a heating element consisting of an isolated circuit of fluid whose temperature is raised by heat exchangers on the exhaust stacks of the station's power plant. A numerical thermal model was developed to describe the relationships among water temperature and mass, reservoir size and depth and rate of change, and energy requirements as a function of time. The model shows that reservoir characteristics are strongly influenced by the rate and timing of potable water removal during the lifetime of the reservoir.

In early 1997 the reservoir was stable with an 80 ft. diameter and a 50 ft. height; the base of the bulb was 325 ft. below the snow surface. The reservoir contained about 180,000 cu. ft. of water compared to 70,000 cu. ft. of annual consumption. Waste heat from the power plant was more than adequate to maintain or grow the reservoir. Records from the first two years indicate that the well can be sustained for at least ten years. The well has reduced the cost per gallon of water from 75 cents to 10 cents and the annual cost from $422,000 to $57,000. Micrometeorites recovered from the well are being used in research.

Photo: Jamesways

Exhibit 54

These insulated canvas and wood structures, called Jamesways, were developed by the Army in the 1950s for use in the Korean War. Although heated, they lack plumbing and other amenities, but they can be assembled and taken down quickly and are air-transportable. The USAP still uses them for temporary camps at remote locations and for summer and emergency housing at South Pole Station.


There has been a continual evolution of the major utility and life support systems as the demands placed upon them grew with the increased level of activity at the station. These changes have been in the form of add-ons as opposed to replacements of major components. Simply stated, many of the major components of the current South Pole Station are at the end of their operational life.

The South Pole Station core facility, now in place for nearly 25 years, would take at least eight years to replace due to the short construction season and complex logistics train. The structural characteristics of geodesic domes have many advantages over standard post and beam construction, but are subject to structural failure if differential foundation settlement occurs. Several structural members did in fact fail in the late 1980s due to differential settling. In 1989, a major project was undertaken to repair and re-level the dome. Since that time, the snow elevation on the dome has been carefully controlled and annual surveys are performed to monitor the structural integrity of the facility. Currently, the elevations of the dome footings are within acceptable tolerances, but with each passing year the snow management effort grows and the probability of large differential settling increases. Consideration has been given to raising the dome, but that would only delay the structural failure of the dome and not correct the other basic deficiencies in the station.

The major structures at the pole in most cases do not meet current construction codes that serve as minimum standards in the U.S. Although some of the substandard conditions in the existing facilities are attributable to the trend toward more stringent codes and some can be eliminated through upgrading, to do so requires further investment in aging structures that have limited additional life expectancy and entail high maintenance costs. The already planned and funded upgrade of the vehicle maintenance facility, power generation plant, and fuel storage facility are critical to the continued use of the station, but they too do not address the underlying issue of the overall deterioration of the facilities in an unforgiving environment.

6.6.1 Cost Assessment

Working with Decision Support Associates, Inc., the Office of Polar Programs developed an analytical model to conduct cost/benefit comparisons for various options for either rehabilitating the existing South Pole Station or building a new station. These studies combine conventional cost/benefit analysis and Monte Carlo computer simulation. Using standard failure probability distributions for each significant component of the station, 1,000 simulations were run for each option to determine the median expected cost and the 20 percent and 80 percent confidence intervals. All of the options considered assume the replacement of the garage (Exhibit 55), fuel storage (Exhibit 56) and power plant, as already approved in the FY97 budget for the South Pole Safety and Environment Upgrade Project, and therefore do not include the costs of these upgrades.

Photo: South Pole Station garage

Exhibit 55

The South Pole Station garage (shown) is crowded, poorly ventilated and seriously contaminated with grease. Administrative measures, such as limiting mechanics' hours, have been taken to preserve worker safety and health. The Congress provided funds to the NSF in FY97 to replace this structure with a more suitable facility that will add to the efficiency and safety of station operations.

Photo: Fuel bladders

Exhibit 56

Nine 25,000-gallon rubber bladders were installed during construction of the 1970s Existing Station to hold more than a year's supply of diesel fuel. Funding for replacement of the bladders with steel tanks was provided in FY97.


the cost analysis of options involving construction of a new station, a total of $5 M for temporary quick fixes of random failures in the existing station has been included. Normal maintenance has not been included in any of the initial costs used to compare various options. However, for comparison of total life cycle costs (FY98- FY25), operating and maintenance costs were included throughout the period.

Four principal options for preserving a viable South Pole presence have been considered by the Panel, and appropriate cost data have been developed in conjunction with each option.

Option 1 - Rehabilitate the Existing Station
Option 2 - Rehabilitate the Existing Station and Incorporate Safety Features
Option 3 - Construct an Enhanced New Station (Option defined prior to this review)
Option 4 - Construct an Optimized New Station (Reduced cost relative to above Enhanced Station)


For the purposes of comparing the four options, all costs are expressed in FY97 dollars ... that is, no provision is made for future inflation.

The costs and benefits of each of these four alternatives are discussed in the following four sections of this report. Unless otherwise noted, all costs in Section 6.6.1 are in FY97 dollars to simplify the comparison of the various options. Thereafter, in addressing the matter of actually programming funds, then-year dollars will be displayed. Rehabilitated Existing Station

In this option, the life of the Existing Station (Exhibit 57) is extended by replacing systems as they fail or, where possible, as they approach failure. The features and capabilities of the replacement systems would be similar to existing systems, except that the new items would, where practicable, be upgraded to comply with current safety codes and standards. Most noteworthy, however, is that under this option certain aspects of the station fire suppression systems, confined space in the utilidor, and emergency egress from the dome and arches would remain unchanged due to the impracticality of upgrades. Under this option, the installation of replacement systems is constrained to fit within the existing dome and arches. The electrical systems would be replaced insofar as practicable to meet current industrial standards but no new capabilities or capacity would be provided.

Photo: existing station

Exhibit 57

Existing Station (1989 photograph). The geodesic dome and the arches shelter mechanical systems and insulated structures within. This core facility has been in use since 1975. The arches had not yet been completely covered by drift when this photograph was made. Photo © 1989 Neelon Crawford.


The cost model for the Rehabilitated Existing Station was based on statistical predictions of the useful life of 20 individual systems. As already noted, the three most urgent system replacements (power, fuel storage, and garage) funded under the FY97 appropriations are not included in the cost model, although the implementation work remains to be accomplished. Of the remaining 17 systems, 10 have "most likely" failure dates prior to 2003 (Exhibit 58).

Graph: failure dates of existing systems

Exhibit 58

This graph predicts the earliest, latest, and most likely year of failure of 20 existing South Pole Station systems. It is part of a study performed by Decision Support Associates for the National Science Foundation.


Since many of the existing systems are nearing the end of their useful life, it is likely that some will fail before their scheduled replacement. If a temporary fix can be made to allow a malfunctioning system to operate until a replacement system is available by sea transport, as is assumed herein, the median expected total cost of this option (FY97 dollars) is $79M through 2002. The corresponding cost through 2025 is $135M. Were this life extension option to be chosen, the most economical and effective strategy would be to begin replacing systems before their most-probable failure dates. This approach was used in developing the costs that form the basis for comparing the various options. Safety Upgraded Station

This option is identical to the Rehabilitated Existing Station option except that station-wide fire suppression is provided, exit stairways are added to the dome and arches, and, because of extremely confined space, the undersnow utility corridor (utilidor) (Exhibit 59) is replaced. The median total expected cost (FY97 dollars) is $88M through 2002 and $144M through 2025.

Photo: The utilidor

Exhibit 59

The utilidor, or utilities tunnel, through the ice beneath Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is -50°F. Plumbing leaks in this aging system must be stopped quickly to minimize the buildup of additional ice on the floor. Because of the confined space, tools and parts must be brought into the utilidor by hand. Enhanced Station

The Enhanced Station option resulted from a long-term planning effort over the past several years to provide a facility that would offer the most potential for science productivity at the South Pole (Exhibit 60). It provides for living accommodations, science laboratories, communications, and administrative areas to be relocated to an elevated three-building complex adjacent to the existing facilities. Industrial functions such as the garage, power plant, fuel storage, sewage treatment, and warehouses variously remain in the existing arches or new arches. All current open storage is relocated so as to reside within the arches, and all existing buildings and utilities within the dome and arches are removed from the continent. Electrical and electronic systems are replaced with state-of-the-art equipment. The dome is dismantled and removed from Antarctica in keeping with established environmental practices. Exhibits 61 and 62 compare the design parameters and capabilities of this option with those of the current station.

Drawing: Enhanced Station

Exhibit 60

Enhanced Station option (artist's conception). Dashed lines indicate the arches of the Existing Station (by then to have been buried by drift); the arches are used in the Enhanced Station for storage and other functions. The Existing Station's dome is removed from Antarctica.

Table: Capabilities of different options for the South Pole Station

Exhibit 61

Capabilities of Existing, Enhanced, and Optimized South Pole Stations. In area comparisons, SPSE (South Pole Safety and Environment Enhancement) is work funded in FY97. SPRP (South Pole Redevelopment Project) is the work considered for funding in FY98-FY02.

Table: Design parameters

Exhibit 62

Design parameters of Existing, Enhanced, and Optimized South Pole Stations. EMI = electromagnetic interference. SSB = single sideband. PTT=push to talk.


The proposed concept utilizes two forms of modularity. First, the structural system will be modular and panelized to facilitate standardization of components. Because of size limits of the LC-130 transport aircraft, modular "room size" building blocks cannot be used, but the floor and roof panels will conform to a standard module size of approximately 7-1/2 ft. wide and up to 34 ft. long. The second level of modularity will be on a much larger scale. Each wing of the two main elevated buildings will be modular in nature to allow phased construction and ease of modification should that be desired in the future.

The cost model for the Enhanced Station is based on a rather detailed estimate generated in 1995, modified to exclude the aforementioned $25M cost of the new power plant, garage, and fuel tanks that have already been funded in FY97. The median expected cost for the Enhanced Station is $150M through 2002 and $189M through 2025. Optimized Station

The Optimized Station option is similar to the Enhanced Station option except that as a cost saving measure the elevated complex is reconfigured to two buildings rather than three and various systems are reduced in scope or deleted to reduce costs (Exhibit 63). The below-grade elements are unchanged from the Enhanced Station option except for the sewage treatment and alternate energy arch, which are deleted.

Drawing: Optimized Station

Exhibit 63

Optimized Station option (artist's conception). Dashed lines indicate the arches of the Existing Station (by then to have been buried by drift); the arches are used in the Optimized Station for storage and other functions. The Existing Station's dome is removed from Antarctica.


Exhibit 64 summarizes the $30M reduction in cost relative to the Enhanced Station due to reduced requirements, lower cost of implementation, and deletion or deferral of energy technology and environmental technology development.

Table: reductions from the Enhanced Station made to achieve the Optimized Station

Exhibit 64

Reductions (in FY97 dollars) from the Enhanced Station option to achieve the Optimized Station.


6.6.2 Comparison of Costs

Exhibit 65 compares the costs of the various options considered by the Panel.

Table: median expected cumulative costs

Exhibit 65

South Pole Station median expected cumulative costs (FY97 dollars). Costs through 2002 include construction and quick fixes of systems that fail in the existing station while it is still in use. Life-cycle costs through 2025 include construction, quick fixes, operation and maintenance. Note that the life-cycle cost difference between the Safety Upgraded Station and the Optimized Station is approximately 10 percent.


Sensitivity analyses were conducted to determine confidence levels for the cost estimate associated with each option. It was found that these variances are essentially the same for each case considered, with the 80 percent confidence level adding approximately $6M in each instance. The Panel has not included any contingency provision, although it notes that this represents a departure from commercial practices.

The Panel concluded, as will be discussed in Section 7, that the most cost effective alternative, in terms of function and total cost to the government, is the Optimized Station option. This case will therefore be used in the following Section as the baseline for determining budgetary requirements.

6.7 Level Funding

All costs pertaining to budgeting for a new station will be presented in "then-year" dollars since these are the measure to be used in Government budgetary decisions.* The Panel used the FY97 budget as the baseline for evaluating a so-called "level funded" U.S. Antarctic Program. The purpose of this assessment was to seek ways to fit the needed improvements to the U.S. facilities in Antarctica under a "flat budget" constraint. This assumption results in the funding availability shown in Exhibit 66.

* Estimated costs in "then-year" dollars assume inflation of 2.2 percent each year from FY97 forward, which was the rate being used by the Government for estimating future inflation at the time cost estimates were made. If the Government's estimated inflation rate is revised, the numbers shown herein should be adjusted accordingly.

Table: Available funding

Exhibit 66

Available funding (level profile). Assumed USAP "level" budget, FY98-FY02, in then-year dollars. Total five-year estimates are simply five times the FY97 figure, thus it is implicit that inflation has somehow been offset.


The level funding scenario in Exhibit 66 assumes that inflationary effects will be offset by improved efficiencies, a reduced level of effort, a compensating increase in budget, or a combination of the three. The Panel considers such actions to be part of the baseline program under a level funding scenario and has made no explicit provision for their consequences in the discussion which follows. However, it is noted that in the absence of either budgetary increments to offset inflation or a corresponding improvement in efficiency, the level of effort in FY02 would have to be reduced by some $20M relative to FY97, with a cumulative reduction of $61M for the period FY98-FY02. This would have a serious negative impact on the level of activity and productivity of the USAP. Further, the Panel notes that many non-governmental sources of future inflation rates provide estimates which significantly exceed the government's values used herein.

6.7.1 Additional Program Costs (FY98-FY02)

The principal additional cost during the five-year period FY98-FY02 is the construction of a new South Pole Station. The estimated fiscal year cost profile for the Optimized Station (the Panel's recommendation - see Section 7) is shown in Exhibit 67 both in FY97 dollars and in then-year (TY) dollars, assuming that costs will on average be incurred one year after obligation. Included in the numbers are the median estimated costs for quick-fixes for system failures in the existing station prior to its replacement.

Table: funding schedule for the Optimized Station

Exhibit 67

Funding schedule for the South Pole Optimized Station. Each entry includes $5M for quick-fixes to keep the existing station viable until the Optimized Station is ready. Then-year dollars (TY$) assume annual inflation of 2.2 percent, the rate used when these costs were estimated, and assume outlays occur one or more years later than budgeted.


As discussed in section 6.13, the Panel has identified a limited number of near-term infrastructure needs at McMurdo and Palmer Stations. Estimated cost augmentations for the eight systems potentially needing attention at these locations total $32.3M (Exhibit 68).

Table: estimated costs of McMurdo and Palmer infrastructure improvements

Exhibit 68

Estimated cost of McMurdo and Palmer infrastructure improvements, then-year dollars.


Although the Panel concludes that the construction of the new South Pole Station should be afforded highest priority, the Panel nonetheless believes that a minimum of $15M must be invested at Palmer and McMurdo Stations during the forthcoming five-year period. Failure to do so will simply place these installations on the same path that has led to the operational and budgetary problems now being encountered at South Pole Station.

6.7.2 Potential Cost Offsets (FY98-FY02)

The transition of activities of the Naval Support Force Antarctica to the NSF and NSF contractors, and those of the Naval Antarctic Support Unit in Christchurch to an NSF contractor, are expected to yield cumulative savings of approximately $19M in FY98-FY02. In addition, the transition of LC-130 operations from the Navy to the Air National Guard (ANG) has been estimated to yield savings of approximately $25M. Thus, these savings, given aggressive management, can be expected to total $44M during the next five-year period. Nonetheless, because of the uncertainty of the estimates and the expectation that certain unbudgeted safety upgrades of the LC-130 aircraft will be required, the Panel has discounted the savings from the transition to a total of $30M.

Cost savings in addition to those just cited can be achieved through temporary reductions in the level of science activity during the five-year period when South Pole Station is being redeveloped. For example, temporarily reducing five percent of the science grant funding and six percent of the science support funding over five years can provide $20M to partially offset the cost of constructing the replacement South Pole Station. Some reduction in the level of scientific activity during this period would very likely be necessary in any event as logistics resources are partially reassigned to support the construction effort. It is noted that because of the large fixed cost component of science support activities in Antarctica, a six percent reduction in total science support funds would require a much higher percentage reduction in terms of science support field capability. It is recommended that this reduction in activity in Antarctica be partially offset by increased analysis and preparation at the investigators' home institutions so as to reduce the impact on the research and graduate training program.

The Panel notes that since South Pole science will be the principal beneficiary of the new station, a temporary reduction in science and science support at that location during the construction period is appropriate. Exhibit 69 shows science and support costs by location.

Table: USAP science grants

Exhibit 69

Estimated USAP science grants and science support costs, FY98-FY02, in then-year dollars. A total reduction of $20M in science and science support during funding of construction of the new station at the South Pole is considered reasonable and appropriate by the Panel.


6.7.3 Summary (FY98-FY02)

The additional costs required to construct an Optmized Station (relative to the FY97 level of spending), and potential offsetting cost reductions, are summarized in Exhibit 70, with all figures shown in then-year dollars.

As shown in Exhibit 70, a net five-year augmentation of $95M is required beyond that available in a level funded USAP budget. Exhibit 71 presents the profile of the additional funding needs in then-year dollars using the prescribed inflation rate and making no provision of a reserve for contingencies. (A reasonable contingency, based on commercial practices, would be $6M.)

Table: USAP budget assessment

Exhibit 70

USAP level cost five-year (FY98-FY02, then-year dollars) budget assessment using Optimized Station option for South Pole. (Quick-fix costs to repair failures in existing station prior to replacement are included.)

Table: USAP funding shortfall

Exhibit 71

U. S. Antarctic Program funding shortfall, FY98-02, in millions of then-year dollars. This is one possible profile intended to approximate the USAP requirement. It assumes otherwise level USAP funding (Exhibit 66). Incremental funding needs include the South Pole Optimized Station (Exhibit 67) and improvement of McMurdo and Palmer stations (Exhibit 68). Offsets include reallocations or decreased costs from reducing science and science support, consolidating LC-130 operations in the New York Air National Guard, transferring functions from the Navy to an NSF contractor, and improving managerial approaches.


This $95M shortfall represents an $81M reduction relative to previously proposed options, made possible by a temporary reduction in science and science support ($20M), reduced operating costs ($30M) and adoption of a more austere station design ($31M).

6.8 Safety and Health

Based on its review of relevant health and safety docu-mentation, the testimony and written reports provided by both internal NSF and external experts, and its site visit to the South Pole Station, the Panel finds that the living and working conditions of U. S. personnel at South Pole Station are increasingly unsafe and that the point of unacceptability has been, or soon will be, exceeded.

The Panel also finds that the NSF has made significant improvements in the overall health and safety of operations in the U. S. Antarctic Program since the Safety in Antarctica report of 1988. These improvements include major changes made at the South Pole Station such as the construction of several modern buildings for both housing and scientific research, and the provision of additional emergency exits from certain buildings. Indeed, during the time the Panel conducted its investigations, several of the most critical health and safety hazards were being eliminated through the commitment of funds to construct a new garage and to replace the existing fuel bladders with stainless steel tanks. Additional interim measures, both physical and procedural, are being implemented in the garage area to improve the health and safety of the staff prior to the availability of the new construction, albeit at a loss of efficiency to the operation.

Nevertheless, the continuing gradual degradation of most of the working and living spaces, particularly those under the dome, and the aging infrastructure as a whole have inexorably increased the threat to life, property and program to the point where further delay in the decision to either replace the station or immediately initiate major safety retrofits to the existing station would be inadvisable. While many code violations in the existing structures can be documented (not altogether unusual for 23-year-old structures), the cost of refurbishing the existing station to bring it into compliance with current Uniform Building Code and National Fire Protection Association safety criteria would be excessive, if indeed it could be done at all.

Mr. Jon Kumin, a registered architect with 20 years of experience designing facilities for use in extreme cold climates (principally the Alaska North Slope), personally inspected the South Pole Station in 1995. In a report to the Panel, he expressed his belief that certain of the structures under the dome, including the berthing facilities, would not be allowed to be occupied were they located in Alaska. Mr. Kumin concluded his report to the Panel as follows: "A final point it will take about six years to design, construct and occupy a new facility. Continued delay in addressing the issues discussed above requires a continuation of the good fortune enjoyed to date." The Panel does not believe that the safety of U.S. personnel living and working at the South Pole Station should be left to "continued good fortune," but rather to an immediate decision to replace the current station with a new station consistent with current design standards and safety codes enjoyed by U.S. citizens elsewhere even in highly challenging environments.

While the Panel addressed much of its attention to the particular health and safety issues at the South Pole Station, it also encountered several matters at McMurdo Station which also need attention. Of particular note, the Panel found that the cold food storage operations at McMurdo are unsafe and that improvements in this operation should be given high priority. Frozen food is currently managed in a large freezer warehouse, from which retrieval is precariously performed by hand from stacked heavy boxes, many feet above the floor. The hazard should be eliminated through implementation of modern rack retrieval equipment.

6.9 Management Effectiveness

The Panel finds that the NSF has met the challenging management tasks of the USAP with professionalism and diligence. The Office of Polar Programs of NSF deals with an exceptionally broad range of scientific subjects (truly from the "a" of astronomy to the "z" of zoology) and has done an excellent job of fostering quality science across this spectrum of topics. Further, the USAP involves not only administration, design, and implementation of scientific programs but also the management of extensive logistics and extremely complex infrastructure functions. Indeed, the scope of the Antarctic Program management task is comparable in many ways to that of operating three small towns but in an extraordinarily unforgiving environment that places a premium on sound planning using a mix of governmental and contractor personnel working in a manner unlike that of any mayor/manager/council. Examples of recent management successes include the safe clean-up of accumulated hazardous wastes, community compliance with both the spirit and letter of waste procedures, construction of modern living quarters at McMurdo Station, and the establishment of new research directions. The opportunity to further reinvent the U.S. approach to activities in Antarctica will be presented in the near-term, particularly those associated with changes in military to civilian support, clarifications of authority and responsibility, identification of needs via a dynamic planning process, and implementation of cross-discipline versus functional budgetary control.

6.10 Ongoing Facility Improvements

The Panel examined the approach to cost reduction carried out by the NSF to date. The Panel concludes that the NSF has done an excellent job of achieving efficiencies within the USAP. In particular, NSF has systematically examined and capitalized on opportunities for savings through investment, redesign, and transfer of functions from military to civilian support. For example, investment in updated weather equipment has reduced the number of turn-around flights, substantially cutting the cost of air operations. Design and implementation of the mobile runway support facility has improved the Williams Field operations and generated significant savings in fuel and capital investment (Exhibit 72). The transfer of galley operations to civilian contractors has resulted in cost savings, and transfer of air ticketing for civilian employees to a civilian contractor has reduced the cost of air travel. Cargo handling has been greatly modernized, with a new tracking system in place that enhances the ability to accurately monitor cargo movements. Improvements have been achieved in inventory control, and cost savings have been realized through long-range planning to maximize the use of relatively low-cost cargo ship transport rather than airlift. Helicopter operations have been privatized with considerable attendant savings while maintaining a high degree of safety and customer responsiveness. Exhibit 73 provides another example of a recent USAP cost avoidance measure.

Photo: Mobile runway support facility

Exhibit 72

Mobile runway support facility. As the U. S. Antarctic Program transitions from military to contract support for all functions except LC-130 operations, efficiencies, improved performance and cost changes are being achieved sometimes by reduced personnel levels, but often through managerial or technological changes in the way the work is performed.

Williams Field is McMurdo's skiway complex on the Ross Ice Shelf that is used by ski-equipped Hercules (LC-130) airplanes during the months that wheeled takeoffs and landing at McMurdo's two hard ice runways (one on sea ice and one on glacier ice) are not possible. Formerly, the 150 or so people who operate Williams Field lived in berthing at the site. Now they commute daily the six miles from McMurdo. The change has reduced the labor to operate the facility from 800 to 150 person-weeks per year, has reduced fuel consumption from 180,000 to 136,000 gallons per year, and has reduced the installation cost for facilities (required every 7 to 10 years for the older facility because the Ross Ice Shelf is in motion) from $8.2M to $5.1M.

Photo: reverse osmosis water production

Exhibit 73

Reverse osmosis water production at McMurdo Station. Sea water is desalinated to make McMurdo's supply of domestic fresh water. In 1994 a reverse-osmosis system was installed to replace aging flash evaporators. The shift increased the amount of water available, permitting daily showers for the first time for all residents, and it cut the per-gallon cost in half, from 14 cents to 7 cents. The annual cost to operate and maintain the new system dropped to $52,000 (from $187,000 for the old one). Installation cost for the new unit was $1,018,000, substantially less than the flash evaporator installation cost of $1,650,000.


Additional cost savings are expected to be achieved as the transition of air transport operations to the ANG is finalized. Still further, efficiencies can be achieved through modernized approaches to coordination of the personnel, cargo and inventory tracking systems. Overall, the Panel concludes that the most obvious sources of cost reductions are already being pursued by the NSF, although, as will be discussed in Section 6.15, additional opportunities remain.

6.11 Cost Visibility

As noted in Section 5, the continuing presence of the U.S. in Antarctica is motivated by several factors. While science is a prime and enduring objective, it is not the sole force behind the U.S. Antarctic Program. Hence, it is difficult to evaluate the true total cost of individual scientific projects, since the facilities and infrastructure in which science is carried out exist not only for scientific reasons but also because of geopolitical and stewardship considerations.

Within the current USAP, scientific proposals are peer reviewed on a merit basis as are all other proposals to the National Science Foundation. The budgets used in evaluating proposed projects in general include only the university-based and "off-Ice" costs, such as graduate student support, investigator salaries, research equipment unique to the project, and institutional overhead. While funding for the operational infrastructure needed "on-Ice" for the program as a whole may be considered separately, the direct science support cost attributable to individual projects including such items as helicopter support, personnel per diem while in the Antarctic, etc., are not currently included in the direct proposal evaluation process. Consideration of such science support costs along with scientific merit in the proposal assessment by peer reviewers could help to achieve cost reductions and motivate researchers to better contain their own science support costs. This would aid the NSF in constructing a balanced program that optimizes science within the overall available budget, including that for infrastructure and support. It is the conclusion of the Panel that insufficient visibility of overall project costs hinders the most efficient use of available resources by both the NSF and its researchers.

6.12 Personnel Issues

The Panel held (voluntary) town meetings at McMurdo and at South Pole Stations, which were attended in total by over 300 individuals. It also met with individual scientists and support staff at both locations as well as at field sites in the Dry Valleys. The scientists, support staff and construction personnel were in general found to be highly motivated individuals willing to work long hours under extremely difficult conditions. It was noted that some individuals are attracted to work in Antarctica in part because of the adventure, danger and hardship that are an inevitable part of working at the bottom of the Earth. In fact, some individuals at South Pole Station were concerned that any redevelopment project might diminish the excitement of being at the Pole where a generally healthy "can-do" ethos has been generated over the years. Most individuals were very interested in improved communications, especially since the one air drop to South Pole and McMurdo conducted during the winter has been discontinued as an economy measure. The town meeting at McMurdo revealed an interest in having professional counseling available to help work out personal problems which arise from time-to-time.

Also, concerns were expressed which suggested that a review of the management approach by the current food service operator might be in order. Much as Napoleon observed that "an Army travels on its stomach," food takes on extraordinary significance in remote locations with few human outlets beyond working, sleeping, eating and surviving. The Panel has subsequently learned that the food service problem has been corrected and that the NSF is planning for counseling as part of the transition from Navy to contractor medical services. The longer term goal is to reduce or eliminate factors that contribute to stress.

6.13 Support Capacity

The Panel concluded that support elements in Antarctica are fully taxed with the shape and pace of today's operations, causing deferral of projects that would significantly contribute to a modernized, efficient Antarctic presence and scientific capability.

Capital improvements and renewal projects are generally funded from within the operating budget and are vulnerable to the vagaries of what funds might be available in any given year. The resulting understatement of capital requirements jeopardizes an orderly modernization program. Deterioration of the plant then generates greater maintenance costs, which in turn further reduce the ability to properly remedy a growing capital backlog.

The Panel noted a number of conditions extant in the logistics structure located at the principal Antarctic support base, McMurdo Station, which are inconsistent with efficient, effective operations. These concerns include:

· Heavy Equipment/Vehicle Fleet The task of maintaining a totally nonstandard fleet (some components from the IGY-era) (Exhibit 74) makes operations very difficult, including the need to keep runways operational the key to Antarctic operability.

Photo: Heavy vehicles

Exhibit 74

Vintage equipment in the heavy vehicle fleet. One of several remaining low ground pressure D8 bulldozers. Caterpillar built about 10 of these units in the 1950s for the International Geophysical Year. Their primary role was to tow heavy sled trains across the ice shelf and parts of the plateau during early exploration and station development (Little America, Byrd). By the 1960s, the U. S. Antarctic Program was concentrated at Palmer, McMurdo and South Pole and no longer conducted long traverses. Modified only by removing the huge fuel tanks, the D8s became station workhorses for tasks for which they are still used (e.g., towing fuel tanks, moving portable buildings, snow grooming; pushing snow to keep Williams Field level, winching equipment from the sea bottom that has fallen through the ice). Despite their dwindling reliability, poor operator comfort and long-ceased parts support, dedicated mechanics have kept these uniquely capable machines operating over the years. Photo courtesy of G.L. Blaisdell, CRREL.


· Electrical Generation Plant Although all five generators are of the same age and are nearing the end of their predicted life, there is not a funded plan for phased replacement of these items.

· HF Transmitters Transmitters providing for vital aircraft and other communications are obsolete, no longer supported by the original vendor or the Navy. Equipment configurations do not lend themselves to automation, and maintenance is intensified.

· Warehouses The lack of a modern inventory system in a number of locations causes shortages, overages, excessive demands of operator-time, and losses due to shelf life expiration.

· Local Area Network (LAN) An insufficient number of modern workstations, exacerbated by the incompatibility of operating systems, produces significant inefficiencies. For example, a modern, integrated information infrastructure could potentially obviate the need for costly warehouse centralization.

· Fuel Tanks The present condition and capacity of fuel storage threatens continuing environmental compliance and precludes the achievement of economies.

· GPS Navigation System Modernization of the aviation navigation system with a system based on GPS (Global Positioning System) would provide both enhanced capability and a reduction in ground personnel required for operations.

· Galley Basic structural problems threaten the long-term viability of the facility and jeopardize human services.

· Dormitories Significant energy losses and configuration layout constrain creature comfort and efficiency in those buildings not yet modernized.

· Recreation Productivity and a spirit of community is adversely affected due to the lack of adequate wellness facilities.

6.14 Management Structure

The current management structure has evolved over a period of years since the Navy first began providing support for U.S. Antarctic activities. During the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year, the NSF expanded its traditional role of funding U.S. science activity to include Antarctic science. With the 1959 Antarctic Treaty guaranteeing freedom of access for scientific and other peaceful purposes, the U.S. began a long transition to decrease military involvement in Antarctica. Later reductions in defense spending, coupled with the desire to obtain increased operating efficiency, resulted in further reductions in military involvement. As the Navy's role decreased, the NSF moved further into the role of providing support functions. With the cooperation of all involved, the support structure has been made to work remarkably well during the still-ongoing transition period.

The existing organization evolved over three decades of gradual transfer of functions and control from the Navy to the NSF and to support contractors and other government agencies. In 1968, the first civilian prime contractor, Holmes and Narver, was selected to complete the construction of the South Pole Station and to assume operational control of the Pole, Palmer Station, parts of McMurdo and all research vessels. ITT Antarctic Services held the support contract during the 1980s, and in 1990, Antarctic Support Associates (ASA, a joint venture of EG&G, and Holmes and Narver) was selected as the prime support contractor and fills that role today.

As the Navy transition began, the NSF moved additional functions under the prime support contractor. But today, ASA contracts directly with Ken Borek Air for Twin Otter aircraft support, Edison Chouest for the R/V Palmer and R/V Gould research vessels, and Rieber Corporation for the Polar Duke vessel. NSF contracts directly with PHI for the operation of Antarctic helicopter aircraft. The Department of Interior, Office of Aircraft Services, assists NSF in the administration and oversight of the helicopter contract as it does for a variety of other U.S. Government agencies. It is unclear why ASA, which provides all tasking for helicopter operations, does not contract directly with PHI as it does for other contractor aircraft.

The Naval Command, Control, and Ocean Surveillance Center in Service Engineering, East Coast Division (NISE-East) located at Charleston, SC, is the Navy's executive agent for Air Traffic Control (ATC) and meteorology and will provide civilian contractor personnel and manage the ATC and weather forecasting functions in Antarctica. The Panel believes that it is in the USAP's best interest that these functions be performed by U.S. Government agencies (military services or the Federal Aviation Administration) due to the legal peculiarities of air operations in Antarctica. Appropriately, the NSF will execute agreements with NISE-East. NSF, believing a contractor should not control a Federal agency, in this particular situation plans for ASA to have direct dealings with NISE-East only at the technical interface level and not at the supervisory level, since the latter could potentially lead to coordination and accountability issues.

6.15 Cost Reduction Opportunities

The Panel identified five general areas for achieving cost reductions: (1) the transition from military to civilian support, (2) reinvention of and reduction in science support, (3) reinvention of and reduction in the cost of science grants, (4) reinvention and reduction in other support/infrastructure systems, and (5) continuing reliance on cost advantages of USCG icebreaker services and DOD bulk fuel and transportation rates.

The Navy will complete the phase-out of its historic support role in 1999. Some cost savings and efficiencies will result from this process, and the USAP command and control structure will be rendered more efficient through consolidation into a more streamlined operation/support train. The completion of the transition from Navy to ANG LC-130 support is estimated to result in savings of up to $25M between 1998 and 2002. The transfer of meteorological, medical/dental, communications, air traffic control, and other services is expected to yield an additional $19M between 1998 and 2002.

The completion of the transition from Navy to civilian and ANG support is estimated to yield a net reduction of some 268 Full-Time-Equivalent (FTE) employees. In order to fully realize the potential long-term gain in efficiency from the transition and contain growth, the Panel believes that population caps at all U.S. Antarctic stations commensurate with at least this reduction will have to be implemented.

Several opportunities for cost savings in general infrastructure and support were identified (although important safety and modernization needs imply added costs in other areas, discussed elsewhere). One important function to be evaluated in this regard is fire protection an extraordinarily important function, particularly in the dryness of Antarctica but one which at McMurdo now utilizes 44 fully-dedicated personnel. Special needs for fire protection in conjunction with flight operations and fuel handling must, of course, be considered in addressing any potential change, but it is possible that the formal fire department at McMurdo could be downsized and augmented with designated volunteers, much as is done at South Pole and Palmer Stations and New Zealand's nearby Scott Base.

Helicopter fuel and support is another area of potential savings. By moving more of the helicopter support to the Marble Point location, which is closer to the majority of destinations, further economies in fuel consumption would result.

As McMurdo's buildings and other support functions age and are replaced, careful attention should be given to added thermal insulation for energy efficiency.

Science support also deserves further analysis and continued streamlining as it responds to the evolving science requirements. For example, science activities at Palmer Station have changed markedly in recent years: ozone research once demanded year-round operation, but those research efforts have shifted to the South Pole. Other research once carried out at Palmer has moved aboard research vessels. While the Panel finds continuation of Palmer Station to be essential for scientific, stewardship, and geopolitical interests, the possibility that the station not be operated in winters during one or more years of South Pole reconstruction should be examined.

Cost savings in the grants and in the direct science support areas are derived from several sources and largely require changes in both the evaluation and implementation of science projects in a manner which enhances cost visibility. The Panel finds that increased incentives for the investigators themselves (as well as support personnel) to reduce costs would benefit program efficiency. Such an approach is needed to optimize science while achieving the critical infrastructure objectives enumerated throughout this report. Program management can aid this process through avenues such as continuing to discourage multiple trips within a field season and increasing incentives for researchers to fully test and prepare equipment before deployment. Investigators can in some cases be encouraged to conduct further scientific analysis at home rather than collecting additional field data. Some reductions could also be achieved by encouraging researchers to minimize the size of field teams. The proposal evaluation process offers a powerful lever to achieve these objectives.

The Panel finds that some savings can also be realized through more explicit "on-Ice" cost accounting for services and consumables such as sample analysis and materials and supplies. The use of an accounting system that more fully tracks such expenditures and makes investigators responsible for choosing their support requirements within a given budget could be a mechanism to foster cost savings. Such a system, in this age of computerized accounting, should be capable of implementation without creating an unacceptable administrative burden.

Finally, agreements with DOD and USCG on costs of strategically important transportation, material, and icebreaking services need to continue if the Antarctic program is to realize cost advantages as the NSF maintains this nationally significant presence.

6.16 Transition of Aviation

As has been noted, the principal enabler of U.S. activities in the interior of the Antarctic continent is the existence of a small fleet of ski-equipped cargo aircraft (LC-130s) which possess considerable lifting capability and range. In response to the direction of the 1976 National Security Decision Memorandum 318, which instructed the NSF to seek more cost effective support, and by agreement of a March 1993 interagency working group, the Navy announced a five-year withdrawal plan from Antarctica in 1993. The New York ANG currently provides all U.S. LC-130 support in the Arctic and has in the past augmented the Navy in the Antarctic. The ANG is a sound choice to provide LC-130 support because of its broad polar experience and the potential efficiencies of year-round operations as activity shifts between the Arctic summer and the Antarctic summer.

Consolidation of the NSF and ANG LC-130 aircraft assets provides 10 LC-130s in the national fleet to service both the Arctic and Antarctic areas. NSF has research interests in the Arctic, particularly Greenland, that can utilize LC-130 support, and the ANG also has responsibility for certain military missions in the Arctic.

During the next three seasons (1996/7, 1997/8, and 1998/9), the LC-130 roles and activities of the Navy and the ANG will reverse. The Navy will no longer have a role in LC-130 operations (or base operations) after the 1998/9 season. During the current 1996/7 season, the ANG will augment the Navy; during the 1997/8 season the Navy and ANG strengths should be approximately equal; and during the 1998/9 season responsibilities will transfer to the ANG with a small residual Navy augmentation.

The transition from the Navy to ANG and the assumption of other functions by organizations such as ASA results in a decrease from 780 Full Time Equivalents to a projected 256. After offsetting the additional slots that will be required to fulfill certain other functions traditionally provided by the Navy, which will not be assumed by the Air National Guard, a total savings of some 268 Full Time Equivalent personnel will result.

As important as the savings derived from civilianization are for U.S. activities in Antarctica, the Panel believes that it is important to retain the currently planned degree of Department of Defense (DOD) partnership in Antarctica. The DOD has unmatched capabilities to meet unforeseen and potentially catastrophic events, such as the need for search and rescue. The U.S. presence and roles are undoubtedly enhanced by a continued, modest involvement of DOD personnel, especially in contingency planning regarding Antarctica. As well, NSF enjoys the benefits of the price advantages of DOD rates and quantity purchases of commodities. These must be continued to assure maximum economy of Antarctic operations despite DOD's reduced involvement in other Antarctic affairs. The U.S. Coast Guard's operating budget within the Transportation appropriation will need to continue to absorb the level of overall fixed icebreaker costs. Changes in either of these practices would produce significant negative impacts on the NSF operating budget. The presumption is that, for example, the U.S. would wish to maintain the existing modest icebreaker capability whether or not it had an Antarctic program.

6.17 Telecommunications

Modern telecommunications with Antarctica enable technologically advanced research by connecting researchers and their data with colleagues in real time; enhance operational support with real time flow of management information; and improve morale by providing contact with family and other associates. Dependable telephone and Internet service is now provided at all three year-round stations and the two research vessels. A technology partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has produced the first very high speed (300 million bits per second) data link from Antarctica (McMurdo) via the NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System.

Antarctica challenges the delivery of communications. McMurdo (78°S) lies at the high-altitude fringe of commercial satellite service. Palmer Station (64°S) has a good view of the geosynchronous communications satellite belt (12° elevation view), but the economics of commercial communications for this small station have precluded NSF from providing service beyond occasional use of a commercial maritime satellite telephone (INMARSAT), opting instead for shared access with Government satellites which have exceeded their useful lifetime in normal service.

South Pole (90°S) is inaccessible from geostationary satellites. Contact with South Pole Station can at present be accomplished by two means of communications. High frequency radio (HF) provides primarily voice. HF signals reflect on the ionosphere to reach over the horizon to McMurdo or the United States. The high latitude of South Pole Station results in HF radio being susceptible to disturbances in the ionosphere caused by solar activity (solar flares) and the Earth's magnetic field. Blackouts in HF radio occur for days at a time during the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. HF radio is not suited to digital communications at the quality, reliability, and data-rate needed for science at South Pole Station, and the systems in place are old and labor intensive. However, HF radio continues as the best means for on-demand contact between McMurdo and South Pole operations and for communicating with aircraft supporting the station.

Internet and connection to the U.S. telephone system are provided by aging geosynchronous satellites that have drifted out of their original equatorial (geostationary) orbits into a tilted (inclined) orbit that allows South Pole Station periodically to "see" them. These satellites typically have outlived their original missions but have been kept active and can provide a daily link for the 5-7 hours per day, wherein they are in line-of-sight (Exhibit 75).

Graphic: satellite communications with the Pole

Exhibit 75

Communication with the South Pole. Most communications satellites are launched into orbits that serve the needs of the vast human populations in the mid-latitudes.A satellite 24,000 miles over the Equator is geostationary: it appears to park over a particular location on Earth because its speed to offset gravity equals Earth's speed of rotation. From there it has a line of sight to Earth locations as high as 80° latitude (which includes McMurdo). Small onboard rockets are fired periodically to keep the satellite in place. Without these boosts the satellite tends to drift north and south of the Equator, becoming less able to provide its original prime role.

But these north-south swings place the South Pole in view of the satellite several hours a day. The USAP, rather than trying to budget for a family of dedicated polar communications satellites, uses NASA's ATS-3, Air Force's LES-9, and NOAA's GOES-3, which, out of fuel (solar panels power their communications), move in a fashion where they have line-of-sight to South Pole Station five to six hours a day.


South Pole Station uses the satellites ATS-3 (simple voice), LES-9 (modest data-rate Internet), and GOES-3 (higher data-rate Internet). Each is an old Government satellite (NASA, USAF, and NOAA, respectively), nonetheless capable of providing useful communications for South Pole Station. These satellites are well beyond their original design lives. Ready alternatives to these satellites are limited (GOES-2, GOES-7). Reliance upon serendipity for future similar Government or commercial satellites does not provide the certainty needed to sustain a science program. Current national and international policy regarding the management of space debris, in the absence of deliberate attention drawn to the unique requirements for South Pole, will further diminish the possibility for the serendipity now being enjoyed.

Commercial low Earth orbit satellite communications systems now being implemented or planned may provide solutions for South Pole Station and other Antarctic locations. The 66-satellite Iridium system (Motorola, Inc., principal investor; a $3.2B system) is to provide total global coverage for satellite-delivered cellular telephone, fax, and low-rate dial-up data. Started in 1990, Iridium may be fully operational by 1998 with the first launches now scheduled for mid-1997. The proposed 840-satellite Teledesic system (Gates, McCaw venture; possible $9B system) also provides full global coverage, but with high speed data links suited for Internet and bulk telephone service. Teledesic may become operational in the latter half of the next decade.

6.18 Robotics

An issue of substantial interest to the Panel is the potential for robotics and telescience to generate program cost reductions while maintaining a high level of quality of scientific work. Within the U.S. space program, robotics result in significant savings as compared to manned spacecraft for many missions. Some robotics applications are evident in the USAP today, particularly the deployment of six Automated Geophysical Observatories on the High Plateau. These relatively simple automated stations collect critical geophysical data from remote locations and report back through the Argos satellites which periodically pass overhead.

The state of the art in robotics, however, is not sufficient to displace economically the bulk of the sophisticated science and support operations now conducted in Antarctica. In contrast to the space program, where robotics can often allow unmanned operations, such technology can only result in partial reductions in personnel in Antarctica and hence far smaller savings since substantial fixed costs are associated with maintenance of any personnel on site. In addition, a serious impediment to such operations at the South Pole today is the lack of a high-speed digital communications capability which would be necessary to perform substantial telescience. Finally, in many respects the Antarctic environment is more hostile to electronics and mechanical devices than that of space. Nevertheless, the Panel believes that as communications capabilities improve in the future, the USAP can realize benefits from the increased use of robotics, provided the focus of such developments is directed to the displacement of existing operations rather than to enhancements in capability the latter having often been the case in applying new technology.

6.19 Technology Opportunities

As has been discussed, the focus of U.S. Antarctic activity has traditionally been basic scientific research. This emphasis has been productive, resulting in advances in knowledge in a variety of disciplines including several of global importance. At the other end of the science/technology spectrum, innovative technologies have been incorporated into the operations of the USAP to reduce costs and enhance science support. The disciplines of applied research and technology development that are bounded by the end-members of basic research and technology insertion have to date been a relatively minor part of the USAP. The Panel believes that the USAP offers significant attendant technological opportunities which could be realized at modest incremental cost.

To this end, there have already been a few quite effective partnerships with USAP in the field of technology, such as the demonstration of advanced satellite communications with NASA and development of a heavy over-snow transport capability with Caterpillar, Inc. Broadening the number of technology partnerships and the applied research program base could provide additional funding while spreading the cost of operations across a larger funding/user base. The involvement of new organizations, to include other federal agencies as well as industry, brings the opportunity for leveraging resources and building or expanding cooperative programs that can have both applied research and basic science components.

As with the basic science conducted in Antarctica, the applied research and technology development conducted there should comprise only those activities that demand the unique environmental conditions or physical features present in Antarctica.

6.20 Education Opportunities

For centuries people have been fascinated by Antarctica. Much of the ongoing activity there involves exploration of the unknown, where the geology (lithosphere), climate (atmosphere), ice sheet (cryosphere), ocean (hydrosphere), and inhabitants (biosphere) are delicately linked. For this reason, Antarctica is an ideal natural laboratory upon which to base multidisciplinary science education curricula designed to capture the curiosity of students who might otherwise find science uninteresting.

Other aspects of Antarctica suit it well for education outside the immediate realm of science. For example, science in Antarctica requires the support of people with a wide span of backgrounds and skills ranging from heavy equipment operators to medical doctors; and from electricians to accountants all of whom share pride and dedication in carrying out challenging tasks as part of a team. As such, they provide excellent role models for youth.

The advent of electronic media and, in particular, the "web," has paved the way for involving the public in science "on the Ice." NSF has taken the initiative to foster educational programs that reach out to all segments of the public pre-school through senior citizen. These programs include live television (e.g., "Live from Antarctica" on PBS) and K-12 curricula involving experiments using current data from Antarctica, such as satellite images of the continent. Another NSF program sends teachers to Antarctica and allows them to share their experiences with students all around the country via the web. There is a new web site (http://www.glacier.rice.edu) which with the help of financial support from NSF contains a wealth of information about Antarctica, including updated weather reports from a number of research stations. "Glacier" provides a home page where scientists can describe their latest discoveries, thereby sharing the excitement of their work. NSF encourages the scientific community to contribute to existing educational programs and to develop new ways of involving the public in the science of Antarctica. This is an effort worthy of encouragement and expansion.

6.21 Tourism

An emerging aspect of human involvement in Antarctica is tourism. The past five years have seen rapid growth in the number of private visitors to Antarctica. Most arrive by ship in the Peninsular region, but the number of these visiting at McMurdo is increasing, and even South Pole Station receives a few tourists each year. Many of these visitors seek to tour U.S. research stations and, as such, can become important ambassadors for the scientific work being conducted. At the same time, there are limited resources available to support such visits and the threat to Antarctica's slow-to-recover environment can be significant if not responsibly managed.

While the number of scientists in Antarctica has increased by about a factor of two in the past decade, and the number of national programs has increased somewhat less than that over the same period, the number of tourists visiting the continent has increased far more rapidly, from only about 1,000 in the early 1980s to over 6,000 in the early 1990s. Exhibit 76 depicts the total estimated number of tourists visiting Antarctica via ship and air from 1980/1 through 1995/6.

Graph: Number of tourists visiting Antarctica

Exhibit 76

Number of tourists visiting Antarctica since 1980. Recent variability is related in part to a few large cruise ships that operate approximately every other year. [From Science and Stewardship in the Antarctic, National Academy Press, pre-1992, and from Nadene Kennedy of the NSF (personal communication), post-1992.]


A quadratic projection of this curve indicates that there will be a substantial number of tourists annually visiting Antarctica by the early part of the 21st century. The increased pressure from tourism must be considered in designing conservation measures and has been one of the major factors prompting the Protocol on Environmental Protection.

It has been the policy of the USAP to allow visitors to its Antarctic facilities while controlling their number. In addition to visitors arriving by ship, tourist sight-seeing overflights by air have taken place from time to time including the Air New Zealand DC-10, which, while flying around Mount Terror in 1979, crashed into Mount Erebus, located only some 20 miles from McMurdo Station, killing all 257 persons aboard. Such flights ceased until 1996, when Australia (Qantas) resumed regular "flightseeing" tours of Antarctica. In 1989, the Argentine government supply and tour ship Bahia Paraiso ran aground and sank. While no one was injured, the ship lost 170,000 gallons of fuel to the sea, severely damaging the area's wildlife.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators was established in 1991 to advocate and promote responsible private-sector travel to Antarctica. In a world of increasing affluence and mobility, tourism will become a growing factor on the Antarctic continent.

6.22 National Commitment to an Antarctic Policy

Since the Antarctic Treaty ratification of 1959, a series of memoranda, circulars and directives has established responsibilities, objectives and practices that, taken together, document U.S. Antarctic Policy. Section 4 contains a summary of these documents and more recent policy-oriented correspondence is presented in Appendix III. The Panel finds the Department of State letter of January 27, 1997 (Appendix III), most helpful in presenting a position that sustains the importance of presence addressed to the National Security Council by the previous State Department memo of 1996. It is noted by the Panel that overseeing U.S. presence in Antarctica far surpasses the normal responsibilities of the National Science Foundation. At the same time, the Panel strongly supports the designation of the NSF as the principal managing and coordinating agent for all U.S. activities in Antarctica.