Great news: A study published Wednesday suggests that the West Antarctic ice sheet, which is larger than Mexico, might begin disintegrating much earlier than expected, possibly raising the sea level across the entire ocean as much as three feet by 2100. (Levels in other areas might rise twice as much.)
One of the most dramatic, if remote, effects of the government shutdown has been the scaling back of scientific research in Antarctica. All U.S. facilities on Antarctica have been put into "caretaker" status, with minimal staff and research activities suspended. Many have noted the huge blow to science this represents. Less visible are the hundreds of support staff who spend six month shifts as contractors in Antarctica, working as cooks, mechanics, janitors, administrators, etc., who have had their lives turned upside down. We asked one worker at McMurdo Station, the largest U.S. station in Antarctica, how things are going, and she sent us this email:
It was a very good week for very cold things. Absolute zero - theoretically, the lowest possible temperature - just became a little less sure of itself, the smug thing. Physicists in Germany believe that they have created an ultracooled gas that goes "beyond absolute zero" into negative Kelvin temperatures.
This has been a truly excellent weekend for expedition-related news. If Paul Salopek's seven-year Out of Eden trek wasn't enough for you, perhaps British adventurer and official "greatest living explorer" Ranulph Fiennes' The Coldest Journey will suffice (it's worth clicking through for the pictures of the ice-clustered, bristling set of eyebrows on Ranulph alone).