UK invests to modernise polar science

Iceberg floats in Andord Bay on Graham Land, Antarctica

The UK is investing in modernising its Antarctica and Arctic research facilities, with total funding of £670 million, including £290 million announced today.

As a world leader in polar science, UK research conducted in the region is of global importance.

Investing in this research is crucial in helping us to understand:

  • the drivers and rates of the changes to polar ice, ocean and atmosphere
  • the regional and global impacts of climate change.

Research objectives

The importance of research in both Antarctic and Arctic regions has been underpinned by an investment by the UK of £670 million for infrastructure improvement.

This is in addition to existing science funding activity.

This investment is transforming how British Antarctic Survey (BAS) facilitates and supports frontier science in the polar regions.

Modernising polar facilities

The latest £290 million funding, announced today, will provide up-to-date aircraft facilities to ensure cargo, scientists, and support staff can be transported easily to Antarctic research stations.

This ambitious group of projects will confirm Britain’s continued position as a world leader in the field of polar environmental science.

The projects are commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and funded by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Investing in research

The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation programme (AIMP) has so far delivered:

  • a new polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough
  • the upgrade of the wharf at Rothera Research Station, and King Edward Point and Bird Island in South Georgia
  • modernisation of the Signy research station.

BAS is building a new science support facility at Rothera Research Station to be used as a support facility for researchers along with new modern collaboration spaces. This is alongside upgraded aircraft facilities.

This will secure next generation polar science over the next 25 years.

Contributing to UK priorities

The programme will contribute to the UK’s key priorities and will ensure the delivery of cutting-edge science and innovation in Antarctica.

Specifically, it will build on the UK’s position as a world leader for polar science.

Answering globally significant questions

Research undertaken on these continents answers globally significant questions, improving our understanding of our planet, climate change and polar science.

Over the coming decades, UK polar scientists will address some of the most important questions facing our changing planet, particularly the impact of melting ice sheets on global sea level.

The modernisation programme will enable collaboration with international partners, influencing the global climate change debate as we build on the UK’s environmental leadership beyond COP26.

Supporting climate change science

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC, part of UKRI, said:

This new investment is part of a wider, long-term programme of renewal of the UK’s polar infrastructure that includes the new polar vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, and the replacement of the UK’s Rothera buildings with modern, low-energy accommodation and laboratories.

It will future proof the air bridge with South America and the Falkland Islands.

The renewal programme recognises the central role of the Antarctic in future climate change and the commitment of the UK to maintain its leadership of polar science.

Next generation science facilities

Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of BAS, said:

Investing in Antarctic infrastructure means we can secure the future for the next generation of polar scientists.

It means BAS can continue to be a world leader for polar science, addressing issues of global importance and helping society adapt to a changing world.

The British Antarctic Survey has provided a permanent British scientific presence in Antarctica for the past 60 years, undertaking a vast range of science, which includes discovery of the ozone hole and an ongoing major project to study the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Further information

The programme project includes:

  • new polar research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough, providing a next-generation marine science platform. With increased endurance ability of up to 60 days unsupported at sea, it can undertake longer voyages and open up new remote locations for science.
  • modernisation of our Rothera Research Station, our main base on the Antarctic peninsula. This includes a new Discovery Building, rebuild and update the wharf, and introduce carbon-reducing technology
  • update of King Edward Point wharf and slipway on South Georgia to make sure the new ship can moor safely and resupply the station
  • modernising Bird Island Research Station on South Georgia to increase storage and improve energy use
  • modernising our summer-only Signy Research Station, to include a longer, more robust jetty, better storage and handling facilities and improved living spaces
  • relocation of the Halley Research Station, to prevent an ice chasm separating the station from the rest of the Halley research site on the Brunt Ice Shelf.

Top image:  Credit: jocrebbin, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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