Cash crisis grips crumbling polar base

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, the geodesic dome symbolising the US presence at the South Pole, is breaking down under snow and brutal cold that dips below (-73C) in winter.

The station was founded in 1956 and rebuilt in 1975 with five storage tunnels and an unheated dome that shelters living and working quarters. The US National Science Foundation says the site needs replacement, or the astronomy, clean-air sampling and other science projects may have to be shut down.

The foundation wants to spend about $200m (£128m) over eight years to replace the dome and the other buildings with aerodynamically designed structures on stilts that would be jacked up as snow piles up.

For years the South Pole's population was limited to about 18 in winter and about 40 in summer. This summer season, 140 scientists, support staff and visitors have crammed in.

The geodesic dome, 165ft (50m) across and 52ft (16m) high, would be dismantled and flown out for disposal.

For 40 years the sewage system has pumped waste water below the station into an ice cavern, rather than treating it. In the new design by the architectural firm of Ferraro-Choi and Associates, "grey water" from sinks would be recycled to flush toilets and sewage would be used to fertilize indoor gardens.

But the federal budget is tight and the US National Science Foundation already devotes about $155m of its 2bn annual allocation to Antarctic programmes. It will be hard pressed to find $200m more for rebuilding the station.

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