Here's how NSF's Office of Polar Programs describes the United States Antarctic Research Program:
The United States Antarctic Research Program aims to increase understanding of the Antarctic region and its relationship to the rest of the planet. This research is the major focus of the "United States Antarctic Program", the comprehensive name for United States Government-sponsored activities in Antarctica. The Foundation funds and manages the Antarctic program in support of the range of United States interests and the Nation's adherence to the Antarctic Treaty.
What follows are objectives for science programs most directly involved in research at Palmer Station or on board the Polar Duke.
The oceans around Antarctica make up one of the world's most productive regions. Objectives are to understand the structure and function of Antarctic marine ecosystems; to determine the major features and adaptations of organisms; and to add to knowledge of their distribution, abundance, and dynamics.
Physical and Chemical Oceanography
The southern ocean has a central role in the world ocean...making the southern ocean a major source of the world's intermediate and deep water masses. Huge changes in the extent of sea ice (varying annually between 4 and 20 million square kilometers) also influence energy transfer. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the world's largest ocean current, has a major effect on general oceanic circulation. Research objectives are...to investigate the relationship between oceanic and atmospheric circulation systems and the physical basis for biological productivity; and to investigate the relationship of the southern ocean and climate.
Antarctica, the world's largest and most intense area of cold, has an active relationship with regional and perhaps global weather and climate patterns...Conditions in Antarctica have proved a harbinger of natural and human-induced global atmospheric change. Research objectives are to improve understanding of physical processes of the atmosphere, to determine the relationship between events and conditions in the Antarctic atmosphere and global events, and to determine the region's role in past and present global climate.
The meager biota of terrestrial Antarctica are of special interest, owing to adaptations to the extreme environment. The simplicity of these terrestrial ecosystems provides opportunities for analysis that is more difficult or impossible in the complex systems of the lower latitudes. Research objectives are to understand features and adaptations of organisms and to gain further knowledge of their distribution, abundance, and dynamics.