Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon George Osborne MP announced on Friday 25 April 2014 that the Government has earmarked more than £200 million for a new UK polar flagship that will be ready for its first science mission in 2019. Owned by NERC (Natural Environment Research Council), and operated by NERC’s British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on behalf of the UK polar science community, this new state-of-the-art research ship will deliver the next generation of UK world-leading marine science in the Antarctic and the Arctic.
Director of British Antarctic Survey, Professor Jane Francis said: “This an exciting time for UK polar science and I am delighted with this announcement. It signals a firm commitment by Government and NERC to sustain and promote the UK’s world-leading capability for UK research in both Polar Regions. The last 15-20 years has seen remarkable developments in science and technology. Incorporating these new technologies in a new ice-strengthened research ship will offer a step-change in Britain’s capability to deliver bigger and better science. It’s fantastic news for our science teams at BAS, for our partners within UK universities, and for our collaborations with other national polar operators. We very much look forward to helping to develop the specification to enable optimal use of the latest technologies in marine robotic and remotely operated instruments.”
The new flagship will combine the best features of both existing polar research ships; it will be larger, have greater endurance and ice-strengthened capability and will enable scientists to start research cruises earlier in the field season. Professor Mike Meredith, Leader of the BAS Polar Oceans science programme and Deputy Director of Science said: “Understanding the polar oceans is absolutely key to understanding the big questions about our global environment. During the last 100 years British scientists have made incredible discoveries about our planet – for example, we now know that the Southern Ocean is a vast natural sink that absorbs carbon dioxide and regulates our climate. Our long-term studies have helped understand the marine food chain, and have proven to be critical for sustainable management of commercial fisheries. Surveys of the deep ocean have yielded vital discoveries about marine biodiversity and informed an international census of marine life. With recent advances in technology we’ve been able to combine ship-based science with robotic instruments to investigate what happens when ocean water melts Antarctic ice shelves and how it may influence future sea-level rise. In the Arctic, our ship-borne studies have shed new light on the consequences of the shrinking sea ice for ocean circulation, climate and the ecosystem. This new ship will build on this legacy of internationally outstanding research, and will, lead to ground-breaking and exciting discoveries that will ultimately generate new knowledge that benefits our society and economy.”
The next generation polar ship will deliver world-leading capability for UK research in both Antarctica and the Arctic. Built with flexible laboratory configurations and the capability for containerized laboratories, the new ship will carry sophisticated environmental monitoring systems that will provide data from the deep ocean, the surface ocean and the atmosphere. It will also have the capability of carrying remotely-operated deep-sea vehicles, which can explore the harshest environments on the planet and explore the seabed in unprecedented detail. It will serve as a central hub from which autonomous ocean vehicles can be deployed and recovered, greatly extending the scale of data coverage that the ship alone could provide. The data collected will be central to the UK’s polar research for coming decades. The new ship will have greater endurance, to enable longer voyages which coupled with the facility to deploy helicopters will ensure significantly greater geographic coverage. The enhanced coverage will open up new locations for science, new opportunities for business, and will clearly demonstrate and reinforce the continuing British presence in Antarctica and the South Atlantic.
Source: British Antarctic Survey, http://www.antarctica.ac.uk