Partial government shutdown: Impact on U-M research

January 17, 2019


Illustration of Capitol Hill with a "sorry we're closed" sign. Illustration credit: Kaitlyn Beukema

Some University of Michigan researchers are feeling the effects of the partial federal government shutdown. The reported impacts range from delays in receiving anticipated grant funding to research collaborations with federal partners that are now on hold.

Bradley Cardinale Bradley Cardinaleis director of the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR), a research institute jointly sponsored by U-M and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA scientists, including those at the agency’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, are among the thousands of federal researchers affected by the partial government shutdown.

CIGLR scientists are engaged in various research collaborations with NOAA colleagues, and many of those projects are currently on hold due to the shutdown, Cardinale said. The affected research projects include annual efforts to track Lake Erie cyanobacteria blooms to protect drinking water (the lake is a drinking-water source for about 11 million people); the updating of computer models used to study various weather phenomena, Great Lakes water levels, and Great Lakes ice cover; and projects to monitor the Great Lakes for invasive species such as Asian carp.

“The cyanobacteria blooms are going to start to grow a few months from now in Lake Erie. Tracking them and warning people requires that buoys be built, instrumented and placed in the water in a few months,” Cardinale said. “At present, that work has come to a screeching halt, which puts the tracking of toxic algal blooms at risk for next summer.”

Cardinale is an ecologist and a professor at U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability.

Contact: 734-764-9689, [email protected]

Brian Arbic brian-arbicis a physical oceanographer in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Arbic says his research has been affected in several ways: 1) One of Arbic’s NASA collaborators is furloughed and therefore can’t perform an analysis for a project that compares satellite altimetry measurements to global ocean forecasting models run in the U.S. and France; 2) A NASA computer that Arbic planned to use for a project on tidal dissipation over geological time scales is down, delaying the completion of the project; and 3) A project to test ocean models for NOAA and the U.S. Navy is delayed due to the partial shutdown, which has furloughed Brian’s NOAA collaborators.

Also, one of Arbic’s recent doctoral students was told that he won’t know the results of his application for a postdoctoral researcher position at a government lab until the shutdown ends. So, the former student’s career plans are on hold for now. Also, Arbic said he has not received funds from a National Science Foundation grant that were supposed to pay for the final semester of another doctoral student.

Contact: [email protected], 734-615-4941

Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia Donald Scavia. Image credit: U-M School of Natural Resources and Environmentis a member of NOAA-funded research teams that issue annual “dead zone” forecasts for the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, and annual algal bloom forecasts for Lake Erie. If the partial shutdown continues, those forecasts will not happen this year, he said.

“It’s probably also worth noting that the nutrient loads for the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and Lake Erie are based on U.S. Geological Survey information and used in all three forecasts,” Scavia said. “So, without the USGS researchers, there will be no load estimates upon which to base the forecasts.”

Scavia is a U-M professor emeritus of environment and sustainability.

Contact: [email protected], 734-646-7808

Mike Liemohn, michael-liemhona professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics. In a recent blog post, he described how the shutdown is slowing the peer review process. Beyond that, he wrote, “for those that use research tools that are now shut down or turned off, like government websites, computing resources, office space, or lab facilities, you cannot do that work right now. The shutdown of NASA, NSF, and NOAA, just to name a few agencies, is impairing scientific progress. These impacts alone are significant and having a noticeable negative effect on space physics research.”

Contact: [email protected], 734-763-6229

Matt Friedman, matt-friedmandirector of the Museum of Paleontology, said at least two researchers have emailed the the museum asking—with little advance notice—to schedule last-minute visits to the U-M paleontology collections. The researchers said they were traveling from abroad and had already purchased airline tickets to visit the Smithsonian Institution, which is closed.

“They are scrambling to visit other collections so they don’t waste their time in the U.S.,” Friedman said.

Also, a National Science Foundation research fellow at the museum is not getting paid by the agency. She has to request transfer of her payment on a monthly basis, and no one is there to send the transfers, Friedman said. The museum is working with the U-M human resources office to underwrite her pay, he said.

Contact: [email protected], 734-764-0490