British Antarctic Survey

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Rothera Station

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is the United Kingdom's national Antarctic operation. It has over 400 staff and takes an active role in Antarctic affairs. The BAS operates with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The BAS headquarters are in Cambridge, convenient for the Scott Polar Research Institute of the University of Cambridge. Its chief centre in Antarctica is Rothera base on Adelaide Island, which serves as the capital of the British Antarctic Territory.

The British Antarctic Survey operates five research stations in Antarctica and others on South Georgia, it has two ships and five aircraft of its own.[1] The BAS looks after British interests in Antarctica and civilian interests in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. In its research, which is its main purpose, the BAS addresses key global and regional issues. It undertakes joint research projects with over 40 British 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. The renowned Antarctic explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs was Director from 1958 to 1973.

In 1962, as a result of the Antarctic Treaty, the British Antarctic Territory was split off the Falkland Islands Dependencies and the FIDS was renamed the British Antarctic Survey; by this time it had 19 stations and three refuges had been established.[2]

Since 1962 the number of stations has been reduced somewhat but become more focussed. The BAS has increased its research and operations to produce vital research results on the Antarctic and the effect of the Antarctic on worldwide weather patterns. It has become perhaps the most respected research body

In 2012 the Natural Environment Research Council proposed merging the BAS with another NERC institute, National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, but its ideas were roundly rejected.


Bases in Antarctica

Halley on Brunt Ice Shelf

The BAS operates five permanent bases in the British Antarctic Territory:[3]

Of these bases, only Rothera and Halley are manned throughout the year.[4] The remaining bases are manned only during the Antarctic summer.

Bases on South Georgia

The BAS also operates two permanent bases on South Georgia:[3]

Both South Georgia bases are manned throughout the year.

Other sites

BAS headquarters

The headquarters of the BAS are in the United Kingdom, on Madingley Road, Cambridge. This facility provides offices, laboratories and workshops to support the scientific and logistic activities in the Antarctic.[5]

At the opposite end of the world from its usual operations, the BAS operates on behalf of the NERC the Ny-Ålesund Research Station at Ny-Ålesund on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic.[6]



RRS James Clark Ross at the wharf at Rothera

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 the RRS Ernest Shackleton is primarily a logistics ship used for the resupply of scientific stations.[7] James Clark Ross replaced RRS John Biscoe in 1991 and the Ernest Shackleton was the successor to RRS Bransfield in 1999.[8]

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. The James Clark Ross often undertakes scientific research on behalf of other organisations in the Arctic, whilst Ernest Shackleton is chartered into commercial survey work.[7]

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 has two Lynx helicopters which enable BAS staff to get to remote field sites that BAS aircraft cannot access.[9] However, a catastrophic 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.[10]


The BAS Dash-7 at Port Stanley Airport

BAS operates five aircraft in support of its research programme in Antarctica. The aircraft used are all products of de Havilland Canada and comprise four Twin Otters and one Dash 7. The planes are maintained by Rocky Mountain Aircraft out of Springbank Alberta Canada. During the Antarctic summer the aircraft are based at the Rothera base, which has a 3,000-feet gravel runway. During the Antarctic winter, conditions preclude flying and the aircraft return to Canada.[11]

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.[11]

See also

RRS Ernest Shackleton outward bound from Portsmouth

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about British Antarctic Survey)