U.S. Government Shutdown Forces Closure Of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

800px Amundsen scott south pole station 2007

Last week I wrote a post about how the shutdown of the U.S. government was impacting research in the Antarctic. With a lack of funding, the bases there are being dropped to a skeleton crew and put on “caretaker status.” This has the potential to throw a lot of research projects into limbo and could set back some of the data collection by years. Now, ExWeb is reporting that one of the causalities of the budget crunch is Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which sits at 90ºS and could have an impact on the explorers and adventurers heading to the South Pole this season.

While the Amundsen-Scott base doesn’t have any official contact with Antarctic skiers, it does serve as a hub of communications for ANI/ALE, the company that handles all of the logistics for independent travelers at the bottom of the world. ANI sets up a temporary base at the South Pole each season and welcomes all arrivals there. They also coordinate closely with the base to track incoming skiers, who often get to spend some time in the station or are given tours of the impressive operations there.

But with the base reduced in functions and down to just a small staff, it is uncertain what support can be given to the skiers in the weeks ahead. ANI will likely have to rely on their own staff and crew more so than in the past to ensure the safety of those making their way to 90ºS. It could present some complications for Antarctic skiers this year, although ANI is so good at what they do, I feel like they are equipped to handle just about any situation that will arise. Unless something changes with the budget situation however, it appears that operations in the Antarctic will be greatly scaled back this season.

Some of the expeditions that intend to ski to the Pole are already in Punta Arenas and are preparing to get underway. Traditionally the Antarctic season launches around late October or early November, depending on the weather conditions. That gives the U.S. government a bit of time to sort things out and ramp up operations, although I suspect that even if things get settled this week, the impact of the shutdown will have an effect on Antarctic operations for the entire season.

Kraig Becker