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People walk into a building.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
Norm Augustine prepares to enter an automotive supply facility at McMurdo Station during a visit to Antarctica during the 2011-12 season. The Blue Ribbon Panel has recommended major infrastructure improvements at the USAP's largest research station. 


Augustine: Long-term goal is to fund more Antarctic research

Augustine noted that operating logistics in Antarctica, with a supply chain that stretches 10,000 miles around the globe, has consumed at least 85 percent of the USAP’s budget over the last decade or more. The panel made it a priority to address infrastructure challenges while making efforts to free more dollars for research in the long-term, he said.

“If we don’t address this issue at this time, and we wait until next year or the year after that, not only will the cost be much higher, but we’ll reach the point where we’re doing all logistics and very little science in Antarctica — and that makes very little sense at all,” Augustine said.

The panel recommended maintaining McMurdo as the USAP’s logistics hub while replacing some aging facilities. (It would cost about $220 million in 2012 dollars to entirely replace McMurdo as it currently exists, according to the report.)

Topping the list of cost savings was a recommendation to cut logistics staffing both on the Ice and at other locations by 20 percent. That’s the equivalent of funding 60 new research projects at the median annual award size of $125,000, Augustine said, noting that such a reduction would be feasible with the introduction of new technologies and short-term investments.

Tractor in front of a sled.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek/Antarctic Photo Library
The South Pole Traverse delivers fuel to the station. The Blue Ribbon Panel recommended more reliance on land-based fuel and cargo transportation.

The panel also suggested that the NSF increase the USAP operating budget by 6 percent for the next four years, which amounts to about $16 million per year, and diverting 6 percent of the planned science expenditures over the next four years to upgrades of the science support system.

“They’re not without pain,” Augustine said of the panel’s recommendations.

Among other suggestions:

  • Shifting re-supply operations for South Pole Station from the LC-130 aircraft to land-based traverses, which use tractors to haul fuel and cargo from McMurdo Station, and to introduce robotics. That would allow the NSF to eliminate four of the 10 New York Air National Guard External U.S. government site airplanes that are needed to operate on the continent while freeing aircraft for deep-field support. The panel also recommended construction of a hard surface ice runway at South Pole Station, which would allow the larger, more efficient wheeled C-17 to land there.
  • Improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of alternative energy. Specifically, the panel suggested expanding the use of wind energy at McMurdo Station, which shares a three-turbine wind farm with New Zealand’s Scott Base External Non-U.S. government site. It also recommended that the NSF invest in technology for converting trash-to-energy and burning waste oil so that it does not have to be returned to the United States.
  • Pursuing new ships for research and ice-breaking support. The United States has been without a heavy icebreaker for several years. Icebreakers are needed to open a channel through the sea ice to McMurdo Station each year, a task once taken up by the U.S. Navy External U.S. government site and then Coast Guard External U.S. government site before the heavy icebreakers Polar Sea and Polar Star External U.S. government site became inoperable. In recent years, the NSF has chartered icebreakers from Sweden and Russia. The Polar Star may be back in service by next year, but Augustine said the United States should invest in a new ship. President Barack Obama External U.S. government site has requested $8 million in the fiscal year 2013 budget to initiate survey and design for a new Coast Guard polar icebreaker, which could take up to a decade to build and cost nearly $1 billion.

Suresh said NSF would develop a point-by-point response to the Blue Ribbon Panel report, as well as an action plan before the end of the year. He quoted from the executive summary before concluding his remarks:

“‘Overcoming these barriers requires a fundamental shift in the manner in which capital projects and major maintenance are planned, budgeted, and funded,’” Suresh said. “‘Simply working harder doing the same things that have been done in the past will not produce efficiencies of the magnitude needed in the future.”

He added, “I couldn’t agree more.”Back   1 2