British Antarctic Survey

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British Antarctic Survey
British Antarctic Survey Logo.gif
Legal status Government organisation
PurposeScientific research and surveys in the Antarctic
Region served
United Kingdom
Professor Dame Jane Francis
Parent organisation
Natural Environment Research Council
£48,053,000 (2011–12) [1]
400+ staff

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is the United Kingdom's national Antarctic operation. It is part of the Natural Environment Research Council. With over 400 staff, BAS takes an active role in Antarctic affairs, operating five research stations, two ships and five aircraft in both polar regions, [2] as well as addressing key global and regional issues. This involves joint research projects with over 40 UK universities and more than 120 national and international collaborations.


Having taken shape from activities during World War II, it was known as the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey until 1962.


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 the British Antarctic Survey in 1962, 19 stations and three refuges had been established. [3]

In 2012 the parent body, NERC, proposed merging the BAS with another NERC institute, National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. [4] This proved controversial, and after the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee opposed the move [5] the plan was dropped. [6]


BAS Seal British Antarctic Survey Seal.gif
BAS Seal

Research stations


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Sky Blu
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Fossil Bluff
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BAS research stations in the British Antarctic Territory

The BAS operates five permanent research stations in the British Antarctic Territory:

Of these Research Stations, only Rothera is manned throughout the year. [16] Before 2017 Halley was also open year-round. [17]

South Georgia

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Bird Island
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King Edward Point
BAS research stations in South Georgia

The BAS also operates two permanent bases on South Georgia: [18]

Both South Georgia bases are manned throughout the year.

Other sites

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BAS headquarters

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. [19]

The BAS also operates the Ny-Ålesund Research Station on behalf of the NERC. This is an Arctic research base located at Ny-Ålesund on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. [20]



RRS James Clark Ross at the wharf at Rothera base RRS James Clark Ross Rothera.jpg
RRS James Clark Ross at the wharf at Rothera base

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. [21] James Clark Ross replaced RRS John Biscoe in 1991 and Ernest Shackleton was the successor to RRS Bransfield in 1999. [22]

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. [21]

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. [23] 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. [24]

In April 2014 the government authorised the procurement by BAS of a new large Antarctic research vessel at an estimated cost of £200 million, expected to be in service in 2019. [25] The ship was named RRS Sir David Attenborough at a ceremony at the Cammell Laird shipyard, Birkenhead, on 26 September 2019. [26]


A BAS Twin Otter at Springbank VP-FBC (21037920214).jpg
A BAS Twin Otter at Springbank
The BAS Dash-7 at Port Stanley Airport on the Falkland Islands. DHC-7-dash-7.jpg
The BAS Dash-7 at Port Stanley Airport on the Falkland Islands.

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 (as of August 2019). [27] 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. [28]

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. [28]


RRS Ernest Shackleton outward bound from Portsmouth, UK, 12 November 2008. RRS Ernest Shackleton BB.jpg
RRS Ernest Shackleton outward bound from Portsmouth, UK, 12 November 2008.

In 1985, the British Antarctic Survey discovered the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. The finding was made 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. [29]

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. [30]

In 2020, a team reported that emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica were nearly 20% more numerous than previously thought, with new discoveries made using satellite mapping technology. [31] [32]

Polar image collection

The BAS runs an online polar image collection which includes imagery of scientific research at the poles, logistics operations, and the continent and its wildlife. The image collection is run by British cameraman and photographer Pete Bucktrout, who has visited the continent eleven times during his 24 years working for BAS. His work has been seen in newspapers and on television around the world.

See also

Related Research Articles

British Antarctic Territory British Overseas Territory in United Kingdom

The British Antarctic Territory (BAT) is a sector of Antarctica claimed by the United Kingdom as one of its 14 British Overseas Territories, of which it is by far the largest by area. It comprises the region south of 60°S latitude and between longitudes 20°W and 80°W, forming a wedge shape that extends to the South Pole, overlapping the Antarctic claims of Argentina and Chile.

Halley Research Station

Halley Research Station is a research facility in Antarctica on the Brunt Ice Shelf operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The base was established in 1956 to study the Earth's atmosphere. Measurements from Halley led to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985. The current base is the sixth in a line of structures and includes design elements intended to overcome the challenge of building on a floating ice shelf without being buried and crushed by snow. As of 2020, the base has been left unmanned through winter since 2017, due to concerns over the propagation of an ice crack and how this might cut off the evacuation route in an emergency. The Halley Bay Important Bird Area with its emperor penguin colony lies in the general vicinity of the base.

Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research

The Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research is located in Bremerhaven, Germany, and a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. It conducts research in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and the high and mid latitude oceans. Additional research topics are: North Sea research, marine biological monitoring, and technical marine developments. The institute was founded in 1980 and is named after meteorologist, climatologist, and geologist Alfred Wegener.

Rothera Research Station Antarctic base in British Antarctic Territory

The Rothera Research Station is a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) base on the Antarctic Peninsula, located at Rothera Point, Adelaide Island. Rothera also serves as the capital of the British Antarctic Territory, a British Overseas Territory.

Signy Research Station Antarctic base in British Antarctic Territory

Signy Research Station is an Antarctic research base on Signy Island, run by the British Antarctic Survey.

A Royal Research Ship (RRS) is a merchant navy vessel of the United Kingdom that conducts scientific research for Her Majesty's Government. Organisations operating such ships include; the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC). A warrant from the Queen is required before a ship can be designated as an RRS.

Research stations in Antarctica Research stations in Antarctica

A number of governments have set up permanent research stations in Antarctica and these bases are widely distributed. Unlike the drifting ice stations set up in the Arctic, the research stations of the Antarctic are constructed either on rock or on ice that is fixed in place.

The RRS John Biscoe was a supply and research vessel used by the British Antarctic Survey between 1956 and 1991.

Fossil Bluff Antarctic base

Fossil Bluff is a seasonal British aircraft refuelling station located on the east coast of Alexander Island in Antarctica. In operation since 1961, its facilities provide fuel, storage, and ancillary support for British exploration and operations during the summer season, October through March. The site is adjacent to a natural, north-south travelling route along the George VI Ice Shelf.

Sky Blu Logistics and air facility

Sky Blu is a forward operating station for the British Antarctic Survey located in southern Palmer Land, Antarctica. It is in an area of blue ice, an extremely hard and dense ice which has lost the air bubbles that normally cloud the ice. It provides a runway able to accommodate wheeled aircraft that are larger than can be handled by other types of runways in the area.

<i>Laura Bassi</i> (icebreaker)

Laura Bassi is an icebreaking research vessel operated by the Italian national institute for oceongraphic and geophysical experimentation, Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale (OGS). Between 1999 and 2019, she was the British Antarctic Survey logistics ship, primarily used for the resupply of scientific stations in the Antarctic.

Postage stamps and postal history of the British Antarctic Territory

The British Antarctic Territory (BAT) is a sector of Antarctica claimed by the United Kingdom as one of its 14 British Overseas Territories. It comprises the region south of 60°S latitude and between longitudes 20°W and 80°W, forming a wedge shape that extends to the South Pole. The Territory was formed on 3 March 1962, although the UK's claim to this portion of the Antarctic dates back to Letters Patent of 1908 and 1917. The area now covered by the Territory includes three regions which, before 1962, were administered by the British as separate dependencies of the Falkland Islands: Graham Land, the South Orkney Islands, and the South Shetland Islands.

RRS <i>Bransfield</i>

RRS Bransfield was an ice-strengthened cargo vessel, purpose-built for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

RRS <i>Shackleton</i>

RRS Shackleton was a Royal Research Ship operating in the Antarctic from 1955 to 1992. She was then in service as a seismic survey vessel, Sea Profiler, until being scrapped in 2011.

HMS <i>Protector</i> (A173)

HMS Protector is a Royal Navy ice patrol ship built in Norway in mid 2000. As MV Polarbjørn she operated under charter as a polar research icebreaker and a subsea support vessel. In 2011, she was chartered as a temporary replacement for the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance and was purchased by the British Ministry of Defence in early September 2013.

Boaty McBoatface is the British lead boat in a fleet of three robotic Autosub Long Range (ALR) class of lithium battery-powered autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). She is used for scientific research, and is carried onboard the polar scientific research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough. 'Boaty', as she is affectionately known, will be the focal point of the Polar Explorer Programme of the UK Government.

RRS <i>Sir David Attenborough</i> British Antarctic Survey research vessel

RRS Sir David Attenborough is a research vessel owned by the Natural Environment Research Council, to be operated by the British Antarctic Survey for the purposes of both research and logistic support. In this, the ship is intended to replace a pair of existing vessels, RRS James Clark Ross and RRS Ernest Shackleton. The vessel is named after broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Agnieszka Fryckowska is a New Zealand meteorologist and Antarctic base manager who has worked with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Fryckowska has spent five winters in Antarctica. She is currently training to be a pilot in Northumberland. She is a recipient of the Polar Medal.

Rothera Air Facility

Rothera Research Station is the BAS logistics centre for the Antarctic and home of well-equipped biological laboratories and facilities for a wide range of research. The station is situated on a rock and raised beach promontory at the southern extremity of Wormald Ice Piedmont, south-eastern Adelaide Island.

The Trans Global Projects Group, also known simply as TGP, is a UK-based corporate group with activities in the project logistics and freight forwarding sectors. The Group is headquartered in Kent, England, with offices across six continents. TGP's subsidiary companies include Natco AG, Natco GmbH and NPT Brasil Projetos & Transportes Internacionais Ltda.


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