Antarctic staff lose their cold comforts

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Science Correspondent

The long Antarctic nights will this year feel a little bit longer to 275 American and New Zealand staff based near the South Pole, following a budget decision made in Washington.

They will have to forgo fresh food and letters which would normally have been provided by a supply plane in mid-June. A budget cut by the US Air Force, which provided 75 per cent of the funding for delivering goods and people to the outposts, means the first supply of winter will not come until August - five months into the almost endless nights.

The team of 262 American and 13 New Zealand staff will have enough concentrated food and heating oil to last the wait, but the cancellation is expected to have psychological effects.

"While [the plane is] not critical to their survival, it provides a very important morale boost in the middle of the Antarctic night," said Dave Lippman, spokesman for the US Naval Antarctic Support Unit. The team always looks forward to supplies, which bring fresh food, letters, photographs, presents and videotapes to the extreme isolation of the tour.

The flight takes off from Christchurch, New Zealand, and drops loads at the US stations at the South Pole and McMurdo, and the New Zealand Scott base near McMurdo.

Instead the scientists, who have made key observations in relating to the ozone layer and have continuing studies on the biology, atmosphere and history of the Antarctic "desert", will rely on telephones, faxes and the Internet to keep in touch.

The New Zealand Antarctic survey put the cost of flight support at around $1m (pounds 520,000) in 1994-95, making up 20 per cent of its budget. But the US air force put up three-quarters of the cost, spending which has now been cut back.