When Washington Spending Freezes Go South, Way South to Antarctica

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Icy government spending conditions might make it feel like federal contract money is melting and disappearing into the ocean, but the only things growing in Antarctica are federal contract and grant opportunities.

Antarctica might be too cold even for (much) snow but it is not too cold for millions of federal dollars. Each year, the National Science Foundation finances researchers who temporarily inhabit the frozen southern continent, exploring the deep ends of the planet and the universe.

The U.S. presence in Antarctica began with regular U.S. Navy visits and settlements in the 1950s. Today, almost 3,000 scientists and support personnel play neighbors to the penguins each year, traveling south to conduct scientific research at three Antarctic stations ranging in size.

Palmer Station, with about 40 summertime residents, is located on Anvers Island, off the coast in a relatively warm, rainy climate. It is used to study marine life. Located at the southernmost point accessible by the sea, McMurdo Station is like a small town, with more than 1,000 spring and summer residents. It boasts a fire station, radio stations, a television station, stores, a power plant, a wharf, a water distillation plant and the wonderfully named newspaper, The Antarctic Sun.

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is located deep inland, only a few dozen yards from the geographic South Pole. It has a few hundred denizens for the “warm” seasons. More interestingly, about 60 people choose to stay behind for winter, during which time the station is inaccessible and temperature means drop to 70+ degrees below. No one can come or leave.

Those who stay over for winter at the South Pole station spend six months in close quarters with others in the dark of night. To wile away the hours and days, they are known to throw crazy theme parties. Popular group film viewing options include The Shining and The Thing, 80’s horror movies set in snowbound settings (The Thing is set in Antarctica). So isolated are the circumstances that NASA believes studying these wintertime occupants can provide psychological insights and expectations for deep space travel.

The South Pole Station serves as the home to one of the highlights of the polar program – the South Pole Telescope. This supersensitive telescope was turned on near the South Pole in 2007, where the 9,000-foot altitude, clean air, lack of artificial lighting and six-months of darkness provides a perfect environment for looking into deep space. In five years of operation, the telescope has produced two dozen peer-reviewed articles.

The Telescope detects cosmic microwave backgrounds, the light left over from the Big Bang. It is designed to solve the puzzle of dark energy, a force that permeates the entirety of the universe and is key to explanations of many of science’s greatest mysteries. Recently, it has played a role in supporting Albert Einstein’s Cosmological Constant (a theory that Einstein once called his “biggest blunder”) and lending insight into the expansion of the universe.

Astronomy is only one element of the federal government’s widespread research programs on the frozen continent. The studies that take place in Antarctica are as varied as atmospheric sciences, biology, earth science, environmental science, geology, glaciology, marine biology, oceanography and geophysics. While most visitors are scientists, the federal government also runs an Artists and Writers program that lets creative types visit to spread the word about the continent.

Antarctica might be a frozen desert. But it is a fertile place for both scientific exploration and federal contract and grant funding. The stations are managed and maintained by a major government contract that typically lasts about a decade.  In December 2011, after a long bidding process, it was revealed that Lockheed Martin would throw on the parka after winning an up-to-$2 billion government contract for support services at the research stations on the frozen continent. Among the infrastructure upgrades in the near future are renewable energy projects and increased fuel supply.

According to NSF, 2013 Antarctic research is seeking a 9 percent increase from the previous year, to $71 million. About 40 percent of research grant proposals for Arctic and Antarctic research are funded. An estimated 305 proposals are expected to receive funding in 2013.

If you are a federal contractor or grant seeker looking for a cold weather adventure, or if you are looking for a contract or grant a little warmer and closer to home, a company that can help you is OppMetrix. The OppMatchsm software solution matches the right federal opportunities to your user profile each day. It ranks them and places the best fit at the top of the pile. Using “adaptive learning” technology, the system learns your preferences and applies them to future matches.

About the Author

Kevin Bowen is a writer working with OppMetrix, based in Addison, Texas. The OppMetrix smart software solution connects users to federal contracts, federal grants, private grants, federal agency procurement forecasts, and market intelligence and analytics. The system delivers the right federal opportunities to large enterprises, small businesses, non-profits, local and state governments, foundations, non-profits, universities, hospitals, medical facilities, research institutions, and other organizations.

About Aronson LLC


Aronson LLC is one of the largest and most respected independent Maryland accounting firms. For more than 50 years, our financial experts have provided the highest quality accounting services for businesses and individuals throughout the Washington Metro area and beyond. Dedicated to vision, integrity and excellent client service, Aronson’s CPAs, tax professionals and consultants can help you navigate complex financial matters. Explore our site to learn more about the industries we serve, the services we provide and how Aronson can help you gain a new perspective on the future.

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