Excerpts from the report on the USAP by the Committee on Fundamental Science, National Science and Technology Council, April1996

3. Palmer Station

Palmer Station's cost in FY 95, including both operations ($6.07M) and science support ($5.95M), was $12.02M.

Much as McMurdo Station offers entry to the continent's interior for biologists, geologists, glaciologists, and geophysicists, Palmer Station offers entry to the southern ocean for marine biologists and oceanographers. Palmer's laboratories complement research conducted on R/V Polar Duke. This station is located in an area of overlapping claims of three countries: Chile, Argentina, and Great Britain. Palmer, while the smallest of the U.S. stations, offers unique opportunities for research. Its location next to the Antarctic Peninsula is significant due to the maritime climate and proximity to large concentrations of birds, mammals, sea life, and terrestrial plants. Since the 1970s, research has been conducted on the population dynamics of seabirds and other marine organisms. Additional long-term research has been instituted for UV radiation, climatology, and worldwide seismic monitoring. Research on the ecology and population biology of seabirds, on adaptations of fish to cold temperatures, and on the effects of UV radiation on marine and terrestrial plants is possible due to the accessibility of the station to these organisms. The laboratories at Palmer Station also enable joint shipboard-station research on the marine ecosystem. Instrumentation at the station provides critical satellite imaging support for research cruises in the Peninsula region and in the Weddell Sea.

Much research at Palmer Station consists of long-term data collection and monitoring. In 1992 the Palmer Station area was designated as the second of NSF's Antarctic Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites, the only marine ecosystem in the network of 18 sites. This research focuses on the effects of interannual variation in sea ice extent on the marine community, which includes phytoplankton, krill, and seabirds. Drs. Robin Ross and Langdon B. Quetin (University of California at Santa Barbara) lead this effort, which involves six U.S. institutions. Ongoing LTER studies at the station and onboard ship along the Antarctic Peninsula help in understanding the links between the terrestrial and marine environments. Studies also are performed on the role of marine bacteria in the carbon cycle, the effects of ozone-hole-enhanced UV radiation on grasses that occur only on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the molecular biology of fishes. Long-term monitoring of human impacts focuses on effects of the 1989 fuel spill by an Argentine ship (Antarctica's largest fuel spill) 1 mile from Palmer Station and on the impact of tourist visits on the population dynamics of Adélie penguins.

Palmer Station's marine location, high average cloudiness, and remoteness from anthropogenic air pollution sources made it a natural site for a recent study of what is called the cloud-climate feedback effect. Algae in surface waters produce dimethylsulfide, a gas that through chemical reactions forms minute airborne sulfur particles. These particles act as nuclei for the condensation of water droplets, which form clouds. This study for the first time identified hours-long bursts of new cloud-condensation nuclei, which contribute to climatic cooling by increasing cloud cover.

Palmer is the only U.S. Antarctic station that is accessible year-round, providing the opportunity for research on seasonal ecosystem responses to climate change, the entire reproductive cycle of seabirds, and the adaptations of organisms to a polar environment or changes in an ecosystem. Ozone depletion and UV radiation monitoring research must be conducted during the ozone hole from August through November. Long-term research for atmospheric trace gas concentration, UV-radiation measurements, seismic monitoring for earthquake research, very low frequency radio waves, and satellite remote sensing require onsite year-round operators for data collection, processing, and instrument maintenance. These data are transmitted worldwide for study by scientists who never need travel to Antarctica. To maximize berthing for scientists in summer, more of the maintenance and laboratory and stockroom preparation are now done in the austral winter.

5. Summary Analysis of the Stations and Ships

The three stations and two ships give the United States the capability for total coverage in Antarctica. They also enable support of year-round science that is necessary to the solution of many research questions.

The latitudinal array of the three U.S. stations, spanning 1,800 south-to-north miles from 90°S (South Pole) to 78°S (McMurdo) to 64°S (Palmer), anchors trusted, long-term, year-round data sets in the world's most data-sparse region. It provides opportunities to continue research in complementary Antarctic settings and to correlate changes in the global environment.

Nathaniel B. Palmer's winter operations are a response to research demanded for decades. Winter science now is being performed in areas where ships have gone, only briefly, even in summer and never before in winter. Polar Duke does year-round science focused on the Antarctic Peninsula area and enables year-round access to Palmer.

Chapter VI
Conclusions and Recommendations

Based on the material developed in the previous five chapters, the NSTC concludes that the U.S. should be in Antarctica because of the unique and significant opportunities it provides for basic and applied research. The U.S. benefits more than any other nation from the Antarctic Treaty arrangements. Our active and influential presence accords the U.S. a decisive role in the Treaty's activities-based decision making process (see Appendix I) and establishes the political and legal standards that make the Treaty effective. Therefore we believe it essential that the United States maintain an active and influential presence in Antarctica (see Appendix II). Further, the NSTC believes that, at the current level of investment, the USAP is cost effective in advancing American scientific and geopolitical objectives, and from a science perspective, the NSTC supports the continuation of three stations with year-round presence.

Maintaining an active and influential presence in the hostile Antarctic environment is costly. The science carried out in Antarctica, described earlier in this report, is unique to the special conditions of the region. The present annual investment of $196M sustains a research program of very high quality that is of great interest to a broad scientific community. Furthermore, the research results often imply consequences for human activities that go well beyond those usually associated with fundamental research. The examples cited - the possible collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet, the circulation of deep ocean currents, and the hole in the ozone layer - have potentially significant consequences for all Earth's inhabitants. Over the past decade, these particular issues have been of increasing interest to policy makers, the general public, and the scientific community, and they account for much of the present attention given to this program. Elements of the biological research in the USAP deal with the possibilities for life forms emerging and surviving under extreme conditions, keys to the very origin of life on Earth and elsewhere.

America's sense of exploration is satisfied both by the science and by the challenge inherent in work in the largely unknown region of Antarctica and its surrounding oceans. The three research stations, McMurdo, Palmer, and Amundsen-Scott, are strategically located on the Continent and have valid, scientific and operational missions that are vastly different. As shown in Tables IV-1 and IV-2, the balance of resource allocation between research support and operations in the USAP is more favorable than previously recognized. That is, the balance is typical of other large-scale U.S. scientific programs that require expensive platforms for the conduct of their research. When evaluating the investment in the USAP, it must be kept in mind that the Program has been given the responsibility for providing the supporting infrastructure for the entire U.S. program of research in the Antarctic region, south of 60 south latitude.

The NSTC recognizes that maintaining the high scientific value of the program in the face of budgetary uncertainties places a high premium on detailed understanding of options for cost reduction. The report describes anticipated savings from further management efficiencies and program retrenchments, and the scientific losses associated with the latter. A several-year freeze in total USAP funding (including South Pole Station construction) is one of the options to be analyzed. Timely input to the budget process, starting with the FY98 budget, is highly desirable. The NSTC recommends that an external panel be convened by NSF to explore options for sustaining the high level of USAP science activity under realistic constrained funding levels.

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