Science  22 Oct 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5696, pp. 589

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  1. NSF Worries About Growing Antarctic Ice ...

    National Science Foundation (NSF) officials are hoping that an unexpected increase in Antarctic sea ice won't complicate plans to resupply two U.S. research stations by ship. But just in case, they are already pondering how else to get 23 million liters of fuel and 5 million kilograms of material to the McMurdo and South Pole stations during the busy austral summer scientific season.

    For the past 4 years, the Coast Guard has used both of its polar-class icebreakers to clear paths for cargo ships through the ice around McMurdo Sound and channel. Although one of the behemoths is now awaiting repairs, in July, Coast Guard officials said that going solo would be fine because the newly formed 1- meter-thick ice cover was only 40 kilometers. But by August it had grown to 200 kilometers. So next week the service's Polar Star will set out alone from Seattle (a 6-week trip) to battle the ice.

    “We're still confident Polar Star can get the job done,” says the Coast Guard's Capt. Dennis Holland. NSF officials hope he's right. But last week they outlined several alternatives, including renting a commercial ice breaker and offloading fuel and supplies several kilometers up the channel.

  2. ... As South Pole Research Group Aims for Fresh Start

    The international body that oversees research in Antarctica hopes that an infusion of funds and ideas will rescue it from its scientific doldrums. “We need to focus on some big-issue science to raise our profile,” says Colin Summerhayes, executive director of the U.K.-based Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, a 32-nation body that earlier this month approved a new research agenda, changes to its organizational structure, and a dues increase.

    The new research plan calls for Antarctic scientists to focus on five interdisciplinary themes, including Antarctica's role in global climate and ocean systems (see The one-time dues increase will help erase a $100,000 shortfall in the group's $322,000 annual budget. Germany and the United Kingdom have pledged to double their contributions, to $28,000 annually through 2008. But persuading other countries to follow suit will be “a bit of a headache,” predicts Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey.

  3. Fly Me to the Moon?

    NASA's new research plan for sending humans to the moon and Mars is a “solid beginning,” says a National Academies interim report released last week. But it cautions that limited space-based studies, funding uncertainties, and NASA's failure to adequately consider radiation and psychological hazards to astronauts could hamper preparation for long- duration missions.

    To gain better insight into the challenges of space living, the panel—led by anesthetist David Longnecker of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia—recommends that NASA make greater use of Earth-based experiments, including trials in extreme environments such as polar bases and underwater shelters. The panel is due to release a final report next August, and Guy Fogelman, head of NASA's new human health and performance office, says the agency is likely to adopt “most or all” of the recommendations.

  4. Schwarzenegger Backs Stem Cell Initiative

    California's popular “Governator” has weighed in on Proposition 71, giving the state's $3 billion stem cell bond initiative a boost that supporters predict will result in a big win on election day. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this week defied his party with a surprise endorsement of the measure, saying that “I am very much interested in stem cell research and support it 100%.”

    Schwarzenegger won his post with a promise to rein in the state's spiraling budget deficit. Although opponents of Proposition 71 predict that it would add to the state's debt, Schwarzenegger sided with supporters who claim it would spark a biotech boom. Initiative backers “made a compelling fiscal argument that he bought,” says stem cell researcher Evan Snyder of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, California. “We are ecstatic.”

    Schwarzenegger's decision could cause political ripples beyond California, says Matthew Nisbet, a communications professor at Ohio State University in Columbus who studies public opinion on the stem cell issue. He says the endorsement “will reinvigorate the issue in the [presidential] campaign too.”