Teuila Fuatai

Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Antarctic air link should continue despite US troubles

File photo of passengers disembarking a United States Starlifter jet at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Photo / NZ Herald
File photo of passengers disembarking a United States Starlifter jet at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Photo / NZ Herald

Antarctica New Zealand is confident the air link between New Zealand and Antarctica will continue when American operations on the continent are reduced to caretaker status.

The partial US Government shutdown, which began on October 1, has stopped funding to the American Antarctic Programme.

Associate director of the International Centre for Terrestrial Antarctic Research at Waikato University, Dr Charles Lee said if the air link between Christchurch and Antarctica is shut down, it could effectively shut down joint research operations on the continent.

"The airlift operation is very much a joint operation between the American Military and the New Zealand Air Force," Dr Lee told Radio New Zealand.

"If the Americans pull out completely and sever the air link, then the New Zealand programme by itself would not be able to maintain that."

Independent New Zealand research projects would be able to continue with minimal disruption, however much of the NZ research is intertwined with our American counterparts, Dr Lee said.

Taking a year out of joint research operations would "throw a wrench" into data collection, he said.

However, Antarctica New Zealand's operations manager, Graeme Ayres, believed the air link would not be shut down.

"We've been assured by the United States Antarctic Programme that the air link will continue," he told Radio New Zealand.

"Part of that air link is made up of our own Defence Force capability, that is the Boeing 757s and the C130 Hercules.

"We're also supplemented by an Airbus that's leased from the Australian Antarctic Division, and further support from the Italian programme as well.

"Between all of those assets we've been assured that the air link will continue."

It was too early to say whether American research staff being sent home could be integrated into New Zealand projects, Mr Ayres said.

Kiwis at Scott Base have offered support to neighbouring McMurdo base as it is reduced to "caretaker" status, with only essential staff remaining.

The US programme, funded through the US National Science Foundation (NSF), is responsible for running three American bases on the continent.

A statement from the NSF said support for its Antarctic staff, facilities, transportation and logistics services would likely lapse on or about October 14.

"Without additional funding, NSF has directed its Antarctic support contractor to begin planning and implementing caretaker status for research stations, ships and other assets," a statement from the foundation said.

"Under caretaker status, the USAP (US Antarctic Programme) will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government property, including the three primary research stations, ships and associated research facilities. All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended."

DEEPFREEZE IN ANTARCTICA:


• Antarctica New Zealand has been advised that the Antarctic air link will continue as planned for the 2013/14 season

• New Zealand's Scott Base can function normally even if the nearby US McMurdo Station moves to caretaker status

• New Zealand's Antarctic Programme will continue as planned. Individual events may be modified if there is a component of scientific or logistical collaboration with the US

• New Zealand has not yet been asked to undertake any monitoring or operational activity on behalf of the US

Source: Antarctica New Zealand

- APNZ

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