House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Examines Proposals to Improve Logistical Support of the U.S. Antarctic Program

(Washington, DC) - Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to examine the U.S. Antarctic Program and to discuss the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel's recent report, More and Better Science through Increased Logistical Effectiveness. Testifying before the Committee were Mr. Norman Augustine, Chair of the U.S. Antarctic Blue Ribbon Panel; the Honorable Subra Suresh, the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF); General Duncan J. McNabb (USAF-Retired), Member of the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel; and Dr. Warren M. Zapol, MD, Chair of the National Research Council's (NRC) Committee on Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

In 2010, the NSF's Office of Polar Programs (OPP), in coordination with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), asked the NRC's Committee on Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to identify and summarize the changes to important science conducted on Antarctica and the surrounding Southern Ocean that will demand attention over the next two decades. Following the completion of the report, OPP requested an NSF-organized Blue Ribbon Panel to review U.S. science support operations in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and discusses recommendations for increased logistical effectiveness to support science research. The NRC report was released in September 2011 and the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel report was released in July of 2012.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening statement, "The U.S. presence in Antarctica is important both strategically and scientifically. By all accounts, the National Science Foundation and its agency partners have done an extraordinary job in building and maintaining a productive, safe, and efficient U.S. research program across the Antarctic continent. They have done so while minimizing our environmental footprint in Antarctica."

She continued, "Our investment in infrastructure and operations enables cutting edge science across many fields supported by multiple federal agencies. Most of us probably didn't know that there is an active volcano in Antarctica being studied by NSF and USGS scientists, and that NASA conducts some research down there because the harsh Antarctic environment is a good preliminary testbed for the harsh conditions in space. Many of our scientists are also conducting research on land and at sea to help us better understand and predict global climate change, and NOAA is making critical atmospheric measurements at the South Pole. But the more efficient and safer we are in our logistical support of those activities, the more opportunity we will have to expand and strengthen the science we do. So I commend Dr. Suresh and OSTP Director Dr. Holdren on their decision to request a two-tier review of the US Antarctic Program, first to look at the science priorities, then to carry out a top to bottom review of the infrastructure and logistics. This is the very definition of good government."

Witnesses and Democratic Members discussed why it is so expensive to support research in Antarctica; the value of the research conducted in Antarctica and the broader interests of the U.S. in maintaining a presence on the continent; international cooperation in Antarctica; the concerns about U.S. reliance on foreign icebreaker vessels; and how NSF can work with the scientific community to ensure that there is support for future science and the science currently taking place while funds are being diverted to logistical and infrastructure improvements.

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The hearing can be seen in its entirety on our website, but, highlights of our Democratic Members can be found here.

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