National Science Foundation (NSF)

Photo: Hood

About the United States of America’s National Antarctic Program

COMNAP Representative (MNAP): Stephanie Short, Section Head, Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics
(DMNAP): Margaret Knuth, Chief Program Manager, Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics

The United States is an original signatory to the Antarctic Treaty and has been fully engaged in Antarctic work since 1956 via the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). The US National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar Progams in the Directorate for Geosciences is responsible for managing and funding USAP. The US Antarctic Program has been a COMNAP member since COMNAP was established in 1988, and the first COMNAP Secretariat was hosted by the United States.

The program has three year-round Antarctic research stations — McMurdo Station, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and Palmer Station. In summer, field camps are established for glaciologists, earth scientists, biologists, and others to conduct research in areas of the Antarctic that are remote from established research stations.

McMurdo Station, the U.S research station on southwest side of Ross Island.
NSF/USAP photo by Jeff Scanniello.

Large ski-equipped LC-130 airplanes, operated by US Air National Guard crews, provide air logistics support to intra-continental sites and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and between McMurdo Station and Christchurch, New Zealand. The US also uses U.S. Air Force wheeled C-17 aircraft to transport personnel and cargo to Antarctica. Helicopters, Twin Otter airplanes, and Basler (DC-10) airplanes, flown by contractors, support research teams at remote sites. Tracked or wheeled vehicles provide transport over ice and ice-free ground and small boats are used in coastal areas.

The ice-strengthened research vessels Laurence M. Gould and Nathaniel B. Palmer resupply Palmer Station and conduct oceanography and marine studies. Annually, an ice-strengthened cargo ship and tanker bring cargo, supplies, and fuel to McMurdo Station for McMurdo and South Pole stations. USAP contracts out many aspects of their operations and logistics support to civilian contractor Lockheed Martin Corporation.

The Elevated Station at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. NSF/USAP photo by Robert Schwarz.

About the Organizational Structure of USAP

The NSF funds and manages USAP via the Office of Polar Programs, which supports scientific research, and oversees the cooperative efforts of a civilian contractor, the military, and several federal agencies.

The program comprises research by scientists competitively selected from universities and other research institutions and operations and support to science carried out by a contractor and other agencies of the US Government. Approximately 3,500 people are involved each year, with approximately 800 scientists deployed to the Antarctic and a majority of the remaining numbers deployed as science support, logistics and operations personnel.

USAP also supports an Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. The program supports writing and artistic projects specifically designed to increase understanding and appreciation of the Antarctic and of human activities on the southernmost continent by providing opportunities for professional artists and writers to travel to Antarctica and work at research stations and field camps and on board research vessels.

The total budget for U.S. Antarctic research and logistics is approximately $US330 million dollars (2012). Roughly $US70m of this goes directly to research institutions, with the balance going to research support infrastructure and safety & health programs.

The research vessel Laurence M. Gould at the Palmer Station pier. NSF/USAP photo by Andrew V. Williams.

Our Science Program

US Antarctic research has three broad goals — to expand fundamental knowledge of the region, to foster research on global and regional problems of current scientific importance, and to use Antarctica as a platform from which to support research. Antarctica’s remoteness and extreme climate make field science more expensive than in most places; consequently, research is done in the Antarctic only when it cannot be performed at more convenient locations.

Among the scientific disciplines encompassed by this broad mandate are astronomy, astrophysics, atmospheric sciences, biology, climate studies, geospace sciences, earth science, environmental science, geology, glaciology, marine biology, ocean sciences, and geophysics (See the full list of USAP Science Planning Summaries)​. The United States cooperates scientifically and operationally with many of the Antarctic Treaty nations. This collaboration involves having easy access to information, shared scientists with research grants, operational support, and working with other National Antarctic Programs.

Our Contact Details

Postal/Physical Address
Office of Polar Programs
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Ave
Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone, Fax
NSF OPP Main Office +1 703 292 8030
Antarctic Sciences Section +1 703 292 8033
Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics Section (AIL) +1 703 292 8032
Fax + 1 703 292 9079

Other Information
Read about U.S. Antarctic Program research and support activities at and
Images of US facilities and activities in Antarctica are available in the USAP photo library at