The NSF Office of Polar Programs has released two announcements affecting the U.S. Antarctic Program, the Dear Colleague Letter: 2023 Update on Science Support and Infrastructure in Antarctica and Updated COVID-19 Management Plan for the U.S. Antarctic Program 2023-24 Season.
Dear Colleague Letter: 2023 Update on Science Support and Infrastructure in Antarctica
Since the last NSF update in April 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to severely impact the Office of Polar Program’s (OPP) ability to support science on the continent, and those impacts have been exacerbated by increasing constraints on resources arising from inflation and the need for facility renewal.
The U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) anticipated supporting a majority of COVID-19-impacted projects and new science projects in the 2022-2023 season. The highest priority science projects included fieldwork involving international collaborations, projects with critical time-series data, and projects involving instrument maintenance to prevent irreversible damage to, or loss of, science infrastructure. Additionally, construction on a critical new lodging building and a vehicle maintenance facility resumed in McMurdo this past season.
Unfortunately, delays in early-season cargo and passenger movements, as well as COVID management protocols, hampered science deployments throughout the program. As a result, USAP is facing a severe shortage of logistics resources relative to the volume of deferred science that those resources must support.
Due to these compounding constraints, the upcoming 2023-2024 Antarctic season will be significantly curtailed.
Read the full Dear Colleague Letter at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2023/nsf23117/nsf23117.jsp.
Updated COVID-19 Management Plan for the U.S. Antarctic Program 2023-24 Season
As announced in March 2023, the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) has undertaken a multi-step process to establish protocols to manage the continuing risks presented by COVID-19 to deployers of the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP).
The protocols have been developed based on community feedback and recommendations presented by a subcommittee of the Advisory Committee of the Office of Polar Programs. The subcommittee report and a full response can be found here. Following review of the recommendations, NSF developed the season protocols which are in addition to the health and hygiene protocols (e.g., handwashing stations, cleaning regimens) already in place across USAP.
For this season USAP will focus efforts on identifying and managing individuals who are symptomatic and require clinic-level care. The objective for the season is to provide care to those individuals, either in situ or through timely medical evacuation, to avoid serious, negative health outcomes. Four principles have been identified to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to respond to infections throughout the season: Prevention, Monitoring, Treatment, and Response.
Read the complete protocols for details.