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NIU Antarctic researchers set back by shutdown

Published: Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University climate change researchers are among the hundreds of scientists whose work in Antarctica is imperiled by the partial government shutdown, which could force the cancellation of the entire research season now getting underway.

The National Science Foundation said in Washington on Tuesday that it was suspending all field research not essential to safeguarding lives and property at its three Antarctic stations.

NIU geologist Reed Scherer said in a interview with the Daily Herald that if funding isn’t restored by Monday, the contractor handling logistics for the Antarctic programs could scrap the whole research season during the southern hemisphere’s spring and summer.

“To choose the word ‘dramatically’ is potentially an understatement,” Scherer said of the impact.

He leads an NIU team that includes a fellow geology professor, two graduate students, an engineer and a videographer working on a documentary.

If they are able to forge ahead, the team will leave after Christmas and stay at the Lake Whilans research station until March.

They’re planning to drill a half-mile-deep hole into the ice to study what’s known as the grounding zone between the parts of an ice sheet covering land and open water.

“This season’s project is one that gets to the heart of the research,” Scherer said.

During the previous season, the team drilled into the ice to collect water samples and study organisms living in the ocean below.

The research is scheduled to finish in September 2014.

Scherer says it’s not a sure thing that their work will be rescheduled if this season’s research is shut down.

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