Atop a windy, chilly hill on the family farm, Dennis Duling searched for better cellphone reception Tuesday and joked about why he'd rather be where he's supposed to be: Antarctica.
“It would be sunny there,” he said.
Duling, of Raymond, Neb., is drilling manager for a University of Nebraska-Lincoln research project in Antarctica.
He was less than two hours away from flying from Lincoln to Antarctica last week when the partial shutdown of the federal government grounded him and UNL's work, and in time may jeopardize the larger international research effort.
Scientific research of all types is stumbling because of the shutdown, but the cause célèbre has become the global collaboration in Antarctica. Research there includes an effort to shed light on the planet's changing climate.
The month of October, when temperatures there are high enough to be tolerable for people, marks the start of research season. The National Science Foundation, which funds much of the research, ordered all work not related to the safety of people and property halted. The foundation said irreversible losses could occur with some projects if funding doesn't resume soon.
Duling's job was to bring UNL's equipment back into service for the season.
“Each day is important,” he said.
He understands that some taxpayers oppose this type of research.
“If I was in their shoes, I might feel the same way,” Duling said. “It depends upon how you value science.”
The UNL work in Antarctica has been designing and building innovative hot water drills to penetrate the ice.
The university was the first to reach a prehistoric lake buried beneath a sheet of ice by using a clean drilling technique. The pristine lake water offers clues about the past, which can be used to prepare for the future.
“The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and its crew were the first people on the planet to do that,” he said. “It says a lot about Nebraska.”