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USF expedition to Antarctica in jeopardy because of government shutdown

TAMPA — A group of University of South Florida scientists expecting to trek to Antarctica this month remain in limbo after the government shutdown halted funding for the research.

As part of the massive closing of the federal government that began Oct. 1 and lasted 16 days, the National Science Foundation shuttered its three research stations on the Earth's southernmost continent.

And while the government is now reopened, it's unclear if the compromise in Washington came in time to save USF's October trip and a second trip planned for January. Researchers typically operate in Antarctica from around October until February, the Antarctic summer.

"I am sad for the students who might miss out on such a unique and life-changing experience," said Amelia Shevenell, an assistant professor of geological oceanography who was to help lead the expedition.

"I am also sad for the technicians who give their all to make our science successful," said Shevenell, who has been to Antarctica seven times. "Without them, we cannot do anything, and they will lose their seasonal jobs, which is quite a blow to their financial security."

The two trips, which were organized in conjunction with the U.S. government and other universities, had been in the works for five and 10 years, respectively.

A first group of researchers was expected to depart from Chile on Oct. 27 on a three-week field study.

A second group was to leave at the end of January and return in mid March. The group's mission: to better understand how ocean temperatures are affecting the melting of Antarctic glaciers.

Tasha Snow, a USF graduate student who was to participate in both trips, said she can only sit, wait and hope.

"It would be devastating to have an entire season of research and learning planned, then have it canceled because of issues within our government," Snow said.

Snow said the research is critical so that scientists can better understand how climate change is affecting Antarctica and how it may eventually influence other parts of the world.

"Most of these places had never been observed before or had any shipboard measurements taken from them before" Snow said.

"The loss of these cruises and potentially the entire Antarctic research season would waste a lot of money and time, and keep us from the discoveries that could improve our understanding of what is happening in Antarctica — information that the public needs in order to be best prepared for future changes."

Faizan Bangash is a reporter for the News International in Lahore, Pakistan, and part of the International Center For Journalist's U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism program.