The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is the United Kingdom's national Antarctic operation and has an active role in Antarctic affairs. BAS is part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and has over 400 staff. It operates five research stations, two ships and five aircraft in the polar regions. BAS addresses key global and regional issues. This involves joint research projects with over 40 UK universities and more than 120 national and international collaborations.
Operation Tabarin was a small British expedition in 1943 to establish permanently occupied bases in the Antarctic. It was a joint undertaking by the Admiralty and the Colonial Office. At the end of the war it was renamed the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS) and full control passed to the Colonial Office. At this time there were four stations, three occupied and one unoccupied. By the time FIDS was renamed British Antarctic Survey in 1962, 19 stations and three refuges had been established.
In 2012 the parent body, NERC, proposed merging the BAS with another NERC institute, National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. This proved controversial, and after the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee opposed the move and the plan was dropped.
Of these Research Stations, only Rothera and Halley are manned throughout the year. Halley VI was closed down for the March 2017 winter and subsequently relocated due to safety concerns after a new crack was detected in the Brunt Ice shelf. The base will not be wintered in 2018 due to similar concerns. The remaining bases are manned only during the Antarctic summer.
Both South Georgia bases are manned throughout the year.
The headquarters of the BAS are in the university city of Cambridge, on Madingley Road. This facility provides offices, laboratories and workshops to support the scientific and logistic activities in the Antarctic.
BAS operates two ships in support of its Antarctic research programme. Whilst both vessels have research and supply capabilities, the RRS James Clark Ross is primarily an oceanographic research ship, whilst RRS Ernest Shackleton is primarily a logistics ship used for the resupply of scientific stations. James Clark Ross replaced RRS John Biscoe in 1991 and Ernest Shackleton was the successor to RRS Bransfield in 1999.
Both vessels depart from the United Kingdom in September or October of each year, and return to the United Kingdom in the following May or June. Both vessels undergo refit and drydock during the Antarctic winter, but are also used elsewhere during this period. James Clark Ross often undertakes scientific research on behalf of other organisations in the Arctic, whilst Ernest Shackleton is chartered into commercial survey work.
The two civilian ships operated by the BAS are complemented by the capabilities of the Royal Navy's ice patrol vessel that operates in the same waters. Until 2008 this was HMS Endurance, a Class 1A1 icebreaker. Endurance's two Lynx helicopters enabled BAS staff to get to remote field sites that BAS aircraft could not access. However, a catastrophic flooding accident left Endurance badly damaged, with a replacement only being procured in 2011. This ship, HMS Protector, first deployed to the Antarctic in November 2011.
BAS operates five aircraft in support of its research programme in Antarctica. The aircraft used are all made by de Havilland Canada and comprise four Twin Otters and one Dash 7. The planes are maintained by Rocky Mountain Aircraft in Springbank, Alberta, Canada. During the Antarctic summer the aircraft are based at the Rothera base, which has a 900-metre gravel runway. During the Antarctic winter, conditions preclude flying and the aircraft return to Canada.
The larger Dash 7 undertakes regular shuttle flights between either Port Stanley Airport on the Falkland Islands, or Punta Arenas in Chile, and Rothera. It also operates to and from the ice runway at the Sky Blu base. The smaller Twin Otters are equipped with skis for landing on snow and ice in remote areas, and operate out of the bases at Rothera, Fossil Bluff, Halley and Sky Blu.
In January 2008, a team of British Antarctic Survey scientists, led by Hugh Corr and David Vaughan, reported that 2,200 years ago a volcano erupted under Antarctica's ice sheet (based on airborne survey with radar images). The biggest eruption in the last 10,000 years, the volcanic ash was found deposited on the ice surface under the Hudson Mountains, close to Pine Island Glacier. The British Antarctic Survey were also responsible for the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. The discovery was made in 1985 by a team of three BAS scientists: Joe Farman, Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Shanklin. Their work was confirmed by satellite data, and was met with worldwide concern.
The British Antarctic Survey BAS run an Image Collection, which includes imagery of BAS Scientific Research at the Poles, BAS logistics as well as images that show the continent and its wildlife. The BAS Image Collection is run by British cameraman and photographer Pete Bucktrout who has visited the Continent 11 times during his 24 years working for BAS. His work has been seen in TV news reports around the world and in most international newspapers.
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