Posted by: Genevieve | October 9, 2013

*contains offensive language

(I am in no way an official member of any reigning body having anything to do with the USAP–nor am I the scientist many referring links state me to be. I am one of the science support contractors–and in that respect I ask the media to not quote from this blog representing me as one. What we know is nothing at this point. And it is a nothing that is changing constantly.)

The impact of the US government shutdown is farther reaching than the media has explained or understood, than most of you can fathom. I haven’t even got the big picture.

The US Antarctic Program is shutting down for the year.

It does not matter that the government may be back up and running in a few weeks. If that happens all the government workers who have been furloughed back stateside will have to get up off their couches and their gardening kneepads to drive back to work, with back pay.

Yes, that sucks. Many people do live pay cheque to pay cheque, even when they work for the US government.

We are going to “caretaker status”. What does that mean? We do not entirely know. But we know the losses are huge. In the media they are talking about the international bevy of scientists who will not be able to do science this year at any of our three stations: McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott South Pole, and Palmer. Much of this science has been decades of research and scientific continuity leading to incredible breakthroughs in understanding our world and the cosmos and our role in it. Science is closed for the season. For the year. There will be no science. A few rare experiments may continue simply because, like IceCube at the South Pole, it is necessary that the building and the instruments it contains be maintained, but even this is unsure. The building cannot go cold, to do so would destroy not just the year’s data, but the entire multimillion dollar system.

For those of us who support that science, well….

If science goes away, what do we support?

We support the survival of the facilities and the safety of those of us who will remain as caretakers. Nothing more than that.

That doesn’t take many people. We have almost 500 people here at McMurdo Station right this minute. That’s about 375 too many, or so the rumours go. I may be one of the many, I may be one of the few. We do not know yet who will go or who will stay.

What remains for us to do is to shut down the station as if we were heading into a Winter in November, not March. We will continue to support South Pole Station, not just to get those poor benighted winterovers of 2013 out of there–it has been a hard season (I understate) but that is not my topic to pursue; it’s not my story to tell–but to make sure that all the food and fuel they need to survive next winter (Feb-Nov 2014) is provided them. That takes an entire South Pole Summer (Nov-Feb) to achieve. South Pole station cannot go cold, cold there would be irreversible. But their summer can be shut down to Winter staffing levels (50ish vs summer’s 150ish).

Supporting South Pole resupply requires aircraft operations and the South Pole Traverse. That will keep some people employed at McMurdo and Pole.

However, the rest of us? Not so very necessary. We will shut station down à la winter, with buildings that were just recently warmed up and brought online after last Winter, shut back down again. That’ll use a few folks for a little bit. And those of us needed to support that effort will stick around too.

The rest of us, well, we are being sent home. How that will happen? When that will happen? Who that will happen to? Unknown. Getting us down here is a fucking expensive, nightmare huge, epic logistics cluster. For the most part the program gets it right, with a few hiccoughs there and there, but a bravura performance nonetheless. Getting us out of here like this? On short notice? Finding hotel rooms in Christchurch at the last minute? Changing plane tickets? Figuring out how to fund our redeployment (it all costs money we no longer have)? Deciding who is vital who is not and when? That is so enormous it stresses me out just to try and imagine it. My mind boggles and steams with the effort.

Will we be eligible for unemployment? Is unemployment being funded? Will we be called back? Will we have jobs next year?

There are so many questions. The entire station, after our All Hands meeting with the managers telling us what they knew about what this all means, was quiet. Respectful questions, answers provided as best they could. None of us flung blame at the messengers who are in just as deep shit as we are. This is hard on them too, and they were struggling with their own anger and grief, they love this place just as much of the rest of us. Then the break up of the meeting. The station subdued, quiet. Clusters of quiet people looking devastated. It is not even rumour, it is fact, and we are so far past being spun up about this we are only just formulating our own questions of what if and how and really? Really? Really?!? There is so much to think about that the messengers at this meeting have not even been able to wrap their minds around everything that needs doing, and many questions brought them up short of knowledge and answers, and opened up new avenues they must research and figure out and decide on. They are more than reluctant and unhappy to have so many of our heads on the chopping block.

We are all sad. Scared. For many of us losing this job, this season, will decimate us financially. Some of us have no place to live back home because we have sublet our apartments, rented out our houses, spent good money getting ready for this season of employment. Some of us live season to season on our pay cheques. We will not be invited back to work in 2013, or even before August-September of 2014. Some of us may not even be in a position to come back next year. Once we start this process of drawing down to caretaker status we cannot back out of it and restart the season.

Even if the Republicans have revelations about their utter stupidity and fuckwittedness and get back to fucking work within a week, we won’t. We don’t get backpay. We won’t get called back to restart the season. Our raison d’être is science. Science is canceled. Science is seasonal. Krill don’t happen year round, nor do penguins and seals, or algae. Or fish or whales or albatrosses or access to glacier melt ponds or volcanoes. If it doesn’t happen now, it doesn’t happen this year.

Mostly we are sad. Frustrated. Angry at our government and ashamed to be Americans.

We are part of an internationally codependent Antarctic system. What happens in the US, and therefore to us, could fuck science in Antarctica for so many stations and countries around the continent. McMurdo Station is a logistics hub for Australian, Russian, French, Italian, and New Zealand stations (and often others). When the French helicopter went down a few years ago? We sent one of our LC-130s to look. When other stations have a medevac, or a fire, or an emergency, we are often mustered to help them with our Air National Guard aircraft and crews. We get them from NZ to their stations for the summer. I cannot count how many times a 25+ strong crew of Russian or Italian or French or Australian station crew members have stayed with us for many days while they awaited the right weather window to fly to their own stations, delayed and housed and fed here. We work together. We are one big community when things go wrong here. And we are shutting down for the season.

So, I do not know what my future is. Few of us do.

But I do know one thing for sure: Who to blame.

Fuck the fucking Republicans for getting us into this mess with their intransigent selfish right wing ideological idiocy.

Fuck them for fucking up one of the most amazing things in the world, the US Antarctic Program.

Fuck. Them.


  1. Well said.

    • Thank you.

  2. Man, I’d heard about NASA getting shut down, but I’d not thought that, of course, the Antarctic program would be as well.
    Not much I can do here but cross my fingers and hope it works out ok for you.

    • Didn’t work out for me. One of the many headed off ice. Some of us as soon as today, I have heard. But rumours only.

  3. Oh shit! :-(

    Thank you for the situation writeup. That’s awful!


    • Yes, it is. Oh shit, indeed.

      But hey, on the plus side, I get back to my beloved Christchurch while I sort out my next step.

  4. This is a case of government making certain that the cuts hurt the most. Bureaucrats love to do this kind of stuff. Sort of like putting barricades around public displays.

    • The government doesn’t really have much of a _choice_ here. Congress denied it the ability to operate, and this is the result.

      • Not CONGRESS. The Republican party in Congress. They are to blame.

  5. It all sucks, they are playing childish games, sad.

    • Thank you, Sandy.

  6. I would like to repost this at Dailykos where it will get a lot more eyeballs on it. I can see that people who don’t live in the U.S. don’t realize that a group of far right wing extremists are holding the U.S. budget hostage to attempt to nullify existing law, specifically the Affordable Care Act. If the President goes along with this hostage taking he will be able to accomplish nothing the rest of his presidency. These extremists would have an effective line item veto on everything done in Washington.

    I was once a grad student put in a bind by a last minute funding cut in Washington, but it wasn’t anything close to this bad.

  7. As a 5-time icer myself, my heart aches for you and those dealing with this. This is my first year home for Winter since ’07 and I was excited for my colleagues still set to deploy…many for the first time. Now, all I can think of is how they won’t be going and that so many now already there, will be coming home. It affects so much more than people understand as well. There are horrible realities that you write about that so many just don’t understand. People work so hard and for so long to get jobs down on the ice, and for many projects the windows are narrow. Apartments get sublet (as you say), and people rely on that limited income for the following summer months. There are just no words. Several projects at our university are now scrubbed. Projects that PhD students need here in order to write their theses. Gone. Done.

    I’m sorry Genevieve…I sincerely empathize.


    • Thank you, John, it was kind of you to comment and share your reaction to what is happening.

  8. Reblogged this on Serendipitina and commented:
    It certainly feels good to say it. “Fuck. Them.” Too bad it doesn’t fix anything. While our politicians play their grade school posturing games, the impact of the shutdown will continue to grow. Wait, fuck them…I shouldn’t compare them to our grade school children, because most of our children are smarter and certainly much better than these ignorant so called leaders. They are as bad as the grade school bullies. The minority in school, the small, but obnoxious few, but who, unfortunately, exert undeserved and unwarranted power.

    • No, they are not at all like children as you say. They are terrorists who have taken our country hostage.


    Great words from a passionate, strong woman about a super shitty situation. Squared.

    • I heart you too my dear. Thank you!

  10. Having spent two summers and three winters on the Ice (1998-2002) I can really empathize with you, especially when you say they have fucked one of the truly amazing things in the world. I used to have a recurring nightmare in the weeks before deployment: that they would change their minds for some reason, it would all be canceled, and I would wake in a sweat and a feeling of such loss… I am one of those government employees you speak of, and it’s not all gardening and back pay (if indeed back pay comes); it’s still scary and stressful for those of us without much of a cushion to live off of while we wait for the pissing contest to end. Not to mention the shit storm of public insult being heaped on federal workers right now (I work for the NPS, the current “jack booted Nazis of public land”) but I can put myself right in your shoes, and what I’m going through is nothing compared to what is happening to the “non-essential” Ice workers being sent back to a life they just mothballed. What the loss of a season on the ice means, financially and spiritually to the staff, the loss to the science programs and what that means for the world, and the huge waste of public money that has already spent, is truly mind boggling and ridiculously stupid. You’re right, it’s embarassing to be American right now. I’m very sorry you are going through this. Take care.

    • I really appreciate your commenting, and clearly understanding what is happening here. You speak truth indeed.

  11. Reblogged this on Cambridge on Ice and commented:
    A heartfelt, and angry, response to the Federal shutdown and its affect on science.

    • Thank you for reblogging me!

  12. The deeply saddening part is the Tealiban is getting EXACTLY what it wants in this hostage-taking/terrorist-led shutdown. Stop science. Stop any services that help the underpriveleged and abused. Stop regulating everything. Stop educating (Head Start). Reinstate only those things that serve their ideologue constituency – veterans memorials for pity’s sake. More similarities to the Taliban every day.

    • You are so fucking right. It feels bigger than just the shutdown. To be a conspiracy theorist about it I’d say this was their plan as soon as Obama got re-elected.

  13. Disappointed to find that the language wasn’t nearly offensive enough;) shockingly mild; otherwise I’m 100% with you. Good luck.

    P.S. This is a very good piece of vivid writing, in my opinion. You could consider sending it to, for example, the Guardian. It is much better than their report of the issue, here:

    They scout for stories via this page;

    I’d suggest this myself, but it would have to be your call.

    • Thank you so much for your suggestion and compliments. But as I am still currently, if very temporarily, employed, I cannot seek out any media interaction at this time.

      I’ve had a few people say the language wasn’t offensive enough. ;-)

  14. I agree, you’ve written an excellent close up account.

    Someone shared a link to it as a comment to a blogpost I put up this morning. I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few paragraphs and linking back to your original. I hope you don’t mind.

    • Do not mind at all. Thank you for considering it something well-written enough to share. I have been bowled over by the response to this post. I have clearly touched a nerve.

  15. Triple damn them REpubs and their agenda. Hey, tell Dale Rivers down there in McMurdo a big hello and I hope he doesn’t have to come back till March as usual. We are yelling loudly here in the states and maybe something will break free in the next few hours. You ain’t the only ones with broken dreams. Hang on just a little while longer.

    • Not a minute after I read your comment Dale walked by in the hallway. So I pulled him in and let him read your comment to me. Put a smile on his face.

      Thank you for your kind words and support.

  16. I am devastated for such a disaster, only because of a bunch of stupid morons. My heart and my mind are with you.

    • Thank you so much for your support. It means so much to all of us to know that people out there are angry and understand what has happened.

  17. I’ll be deploying to Halley in a few weeks for the first time. The thought of having that taken away from me like some of your newbies would have me crying like a baby. And you lot down there now, shit man. My heart goes out to you. It’s absolutely fucking twisted that you’re having to deal with this and that so much good will be pissed away by morons.

    • Oh, well, when I heard I was leaving, I’d say crying like a baby is an understatement indeed. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  18. I’m sorry for what happen to you. I can only hope things will be better ASAP. On the other hand, thank you for the information. I had known this shutdown would affect some/lots of science program but I didn’t it could be this bad.

    • Thank you for your sympathy. This outpouring of understanding from people who read this, means so much to us. To know we are not alone no matter how far away from the real world we go for work.

  19. Retired 47 year old former USN E-5 here. An adventurer at heart, I wanted to go to space, but that wasn’t happening. so figured go to a cold place LIKE Space, and dance with the Emperors or at least study them. Always wanted to go to Deep Freeze on active duty, but well, i am not smart enough nor science qualified. So these days I write science fiction, and your story is as compelling as the larger story of the loss that GOP has put on us since Bush II. But some people from the rock 93 million mikes out have dwelt in the windy dark for a time, and enriched humanity thereby. I consider you all, every one there, to be of an unheralded status equal to Astronauts, unsung heroes. Glad to see others at least made it, and made knowledge from it. A unasked for tragedy for science and the human race. Would that we had Gore and then Obama, and none of this Iraq/’Stan war business, or some other misgiven means to predict the fallout of all of this Anti-Black Man hate, but like an Extinction Level Event, there was likely no stopping it because the lowest common denominator here, of course is who famous said what about another celb on twitter, the next beer, the next sexual encounter, and who is dating which Kardashian. People can be so damn short-sighted. Come back, tell your story and let’s fix the damn system that perpetuates this kind of nightmare, which Narcissistic White Men, can lord it over everyone else, because they hate, fear, and abhor a two term Black President. We all know that’s the real reason. Good luck to you and coworkers. No lie. Stay Warm.

    • Oh, James, thank you so much. And so much of what you said is true.

  20. Spent 5 years in Hawaii, friends with a UH-based Physicist who does great work in Antarctica. I haven’t spoken to him but I can well imagine that his projects are in tatters. The loss of jobs and the knowledge that comes with them makes me mad, but the loss of opportunity and the interruptions to long-time data series is devastating. The very best of luck to you and your colleagues.

    • Thank you, we all appreciate your good wishes.

  21. I identify with you on this. Found your blog via yahoo news. I work in Kabul, we’re affected as well. As you know and the public doesn’t is that with contracted work, the contract doesn’t get paid, neither do we. Secondly, mission essential personnel must continue with no pay. Your unique situation has so much more to lose with the shutdown. Personnel laid off, the logistics alone cost is going to be more than keeping the personnel on site. You fly MILAIR to the stations, correct? How can they fly in, if we’re shut down? ;) Maybe that’s an incentive to keep you guys there. How often do you get supplies in? Very curious. i wish you well. Keep your head up! From one contractor to another… Lisa Davis

    • Argh! I am so sorry for you, Lisa. We fly via a ragbag of aircraft lately. Used to be all NYANG aircraft, C17s and Hercs. But now we come in on Aussie airbuses, RNZAF aircraft and others. But, for the most part, yes, MILAIR.

  22. Shit. A lot of research on climate change goes on there, from what I understand. Never mind all the rest– which is considerable with the unique environment. Then again, the Far Right doesn’t “believe” in climate change, or most of the rest of science for that matter. Right now I give humanity about 50/50 odds of sliding into another Dark Ages, with recovery doubtful due to a ruined environment.

  23. Free room in Cypress, TX(suburb of Houston) for someone that decides to job hunt here. Be prepared, if we get sleet the city can shut down.

    • Wow. Mary, that is awfully sweet of you. It’s amazing the outpourings of support we have received here.

  24. I too regret the situation.However, something I have learned working for the govt. for way too many years is that nothing is certain when Congress makes the rules. They can even promise you something, just to change the rules later. The uncertainty comes with the job, it’s just that we tent to forget that.

    Regarding the science, all is not lost! There will just be a hole in the data now. This happens all the time as equipment breaks, This hole is just self-inflicted.

  25. Oh, man. Last Monday, in my geography mapping course, I illustrated great circle routes on a blow-up globe by stretching a string from LA to Sydney, Sydney to CHCH, CHCH to McMurdo, and told the students how the USAP was in jeopardy. Then on the 9th, of course, it all blew up. So now tomorrow I get to tell the students how a faction of a party has screwed up science and peoples’ lives. From the outside, I am sure the US looks like a crazy place.

    • It IS a crazy place. I think this is a, to use an overwrought phrase, a “teachable moment” to show not just how geography works, but government and money and so many things having an impact down here.

      Thank you, Daniel. Good luck explaining what happened.

  26. Same offer from Anchorage Alaska. A room available for free use while someone job hunts.
    Wishing you all the best

    • So many amazing people. Thank you Sean.

  27. This season was going to be my first time to the ice with the medical staff. I was an alternate for the last two seasons, so it was VERY exciting to finally get the primary spot. Three years of hard work and determination finally paid off.
    I can’t even describe how pumped/excited/thrilled/ready I was to start my journey from Denver one week ago. My life state-side stopped; my current job was suspended so I could take the ice position, furniture went into storage, apartment lease ended, extra long underwear was purchased, and many goodbye parties were had… only to get a phone call when I was at my gate with a fresh ticket in my hand that said, “I’m so sorry, but we’re going to caretaker status. We need you to go home.”
    Kind of felt like a movie because it was so terribly surreal, but I collapsed and cried at gate A51 with my USAP Participant Guidebook in hand. I believe I said “fuck the government” numerous times.

    It’s one thing to be down one medical personnel, but to DESTROY science?? I’m still trying to comprehend this mess. It’s selfish. I feel like the US government betrayed its people. They let so many people down and ruined their lives this year.

    I feel your pain and I hope something good can come out of this situation.
    I sure hope I can make it next year… maybe fourth time is a charm.

    Sending you well wishes from the Mile High City :)

    • Oh, Erin, your story made me cry. I am you. I am, really. I was so excited after so many years of trying to get here finally, that I cannot imagine the pain you must be feeling right now to have it snatched away from you. I do not think I could have survived that if it happened to me. I know exactly how you felt. I do. And to get that notice at the fucking airport, I would have collapsed like that too, in pain but bewildered by how surreal it all was.


    • Erin,

      I also was turned around last week. It took me two flights to get to LAX and by then my excitment was through the roof. This was to be my first trip also. I landed, turned on my phone to let my husband know that I was ok and ended up flooded with voicemails and emails to stay put my trip was not going to happen. I had tunnel vision at that moment, I dont recall anything but reading those emails and thinking they had the wrong person. I wanted this trip too much, I gave up a lot for it, no way was this happening to me. Then I met others in the same situation, and my sadness only grew. I am also hoping I get the chance next season to go again. I gave up a job of six years for this, and in the end that sounds petty to the people I met that had no where to fly back to, at least I had home.


  28. Why was I not surprised (pleasantly) to see that you wrote this? Best wishes and my condolences on this unfortunate situation!

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