McMurdo Station is a National Science Foundation hub for astronomers, glaciologists, and oceanographers studying the region’s polar ecosystem. Much of the research in recent years has focused on climate change.

McMurdo Station is a National Science Foundation hub for astronomers, glaciologists, and oceanographers studying the region’s polar ecosystem. Much of the research in recent years has focused on climate change.

Credit: Eli Duke/Licensed Under Creative Commons

As we reported in the October issue of ARCHITECT, OZ Architecture is currently working on what could be the firm's most extreme project: a master plan that would remake McMurdo, the Antarctic research hub for the National Science Foundation (NSF). McMurdo’s busy research season usually runs from October through February, which is when researchers usually flock to the base to take advantage of Antarctica's version of “summer.” But thanks to the government shutdown, all of that is currently on hold. On Oct. 8, the NSF issued a statement saying that it had directed contractor Lockheed Martin to begin making plans to put the U.S. Antarctic Program, including operations at McMurdo, in “caretaker status” for the 2013-2014 season.

“All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended” on or about Oct. 14, when current funding will be depleted.

Scientists who were gearing up for long-planned research projects have been forced to put those plans on hold, and the chance to carry them out may not come again. In its statement, the NSF noted that “some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed…” The Christian Science MonitorNPR, and The New York Times all have covered what the shutdown could mean for McMurdo scientists.

So what does the shutdown mean for OZ’s master plan for McMurdo? “We could lose a year,” says Rick Petersen, a principal of the firm, which is based in Denver. Peterson still hopes OZ is selected to design at least some of the new buildings at McMurdo. If and when that happens, Petersen and his team would need to return to McMurdo for onsite inspections before completing any design work. And if the shutdown isn’t resolved soon, he says, that won’t happen this season.

Still, Petersen says the NSF is “eager” to start implementing the master plan as soon as possible.

“There is a great deal of momentum and commitment to improving efficiency at McMurdo,” he says. “I can’t believe that a short-term shutdown would kill that initiative.”