NSF is committed to being supportive and as responsive as possible to the needs of the research community in the face of continuing challenges posed by COVID-19. Please consult the NSF website regularly for up-to-date information and answers to Frequently Asked Questions.
All three USAP Antarctic Stations continue to operate safely with no indications of the virus detected. The research vessel RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer and the RV Lawrence M. Gould are both in port in Punta Arenas, Chile. Last season, USAP successfully completed critical science and operational activities through careful planning and with the support of our gateway countries.
We remain in close contact with our colleagues in other National Antarctic programs regarding plans and protocols for minimizing the risk that COVID poses to Antarctica as we all face another season of COVID-related risks and restrictions.
The following factors contribute to our planning posture: USAP policy does currently not require deployers to be vaccinated against COVID-19; testing and quarantine protocols enacted last year to ensure the virus is not transported to our stations will continue. The number of deployers that will be permitted into our gateways will once again be significantly curtailed due to ongoing border restrictions. The stricter PQ guidelines instituted previously will remain in force, and any vaccination information a deployer wishes to provide to our medical team will be appropriately considered. These complications necessitate the continued use of last year’s tiering framework to guide our planning. These tier definitions can be found at: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=300461&org=OPP.
Some fifty science and technical activities will be supported by limited team deployments or through technical support from the Antarctic Support Contractor. We will also be moving forward with construction of a replacement pier at Palmer Station, which we believe can be done safely and will alleviate additional disruption to peninsula science in future years. However, AIMS construction at McMurdo Station will again be postponed.
We realize that this curtailment of the USAP research program will impact many of you, and we are committed to working with everyone affected to map out a path forward.