U.S. Government Shutdown Disrupts Earth Monitoring

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Since the 1960s, researchers have been following the lives of Weddell seals in Antarctica. The long-running study has delivered insights into what makes or breaks a life for a polar marine mammal. But data for this year might not get collected, thanks to the intransigence of U.S. politicians.

The seal scientists were already in Antarctica when they had to shut down the research and leave for New Zealand, where they waited anxiously for the last few weeks. They will scramble to fill in the blanks between now and December.

Similar studies on penguins, fish and other animals have been affected. And it's not just animal research. Flights to monitor the Antarctic ice were delayed, creating a data gap that may make it harder to understand how and why ice sheets are changing. Measurements of ocean acidification have been disrupted.

Nor is it just Antarctica. Satellites went dark, as if an alien attack had blinded our ability to watch over our own planet. Monitoring of food and air pollution ceased. This U.S. government shutdown may be over. But the negative effects on science and the environment have just begun to ripple.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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