Another long wait
Today I have to wait out 11 hours at LAX before a red-eye to Sydney. I’m not entirely happy about it, but I’m placated by wifi and coffee. At least the layover has a finite timeline, unlike this past week.
As most of you are aware, the US government shutdown for 16 days earlier this month. It had many ramifications for science across the country, only one of which was closing the US Antarctic research stations. From the start of the shutdown until yesterday, it was unclear how the field season would proceed, if at all. When the shutdown finally ended, McMurdo was understaffed and unprepared for a deluge of scientists. It’s not a town that can easily be “turned back on”. Luckily, it has been. It appears that the McMurdo LTER will be able to carry out a full season of science, albeit a week later than planned. Unfortunately, many projects will not be so lucky, especially if this was their initial grant year.
Science aside, this shutdown has had a major impact on graduate students and young scientists. In a comment to Nature, Gretchen Hoffman, a research at UCSB, painted an informative picture of who Antarctic scientists really are. Shown below, it is clear that most field personnel are early career scientists. Losing an entire field season early in one’s career can be devastating professionally.
Most publicity about the shutdown in regards to Antarctica has glossed over this fact, and focused on the loss of longterm datasets. This is a huge part of why the McMurdo LTER has gotten the green light to head to the ice. The continuity of data is crucial in climate analysis.
But what bothers me, are quotes like these (published in Science news):
“I can guarantee you that everybody has had a gap for some reason—a storm, a vacation, a temporary loss of funding, or whatever,” … “And if people are honest with themselves, they will admit that it’s not the end of the world.” But… “it’s never desirable to have gaps in your data.”
As someone who is paid to deliver long term data, I can deal with a storm, or a sensor malfunction. It’s nature. But the fact that this shutdown, which has devastated a number of world class scientific endeavors, was initiated by a congressional hostage maneuver, is heartbreaking. But, it’s better than the government just brazenly cutting science funding, right Canada?