Tag Archives: British Antarctic Survey

The British Antarctic Survey

2 Nov

I did not know, before reading the obituary of Richard Laws that The British Antarctic Survey (of which Laws was Director in the 1970s and 80s), that the successful continuation of this hugely renowned scientific base was indirectly due to the Falklands War.
The Survey was pioneered by Sir Vivian Fuchs who gained government support for the present headquarters in Cambridge as well as research stations based on the Antarctic Peninsula. Fuchs’ work was continued by Laws who consolidated the BAS’s reputation as a multidisciplinary research institute, but had to battle against severe funding cuts by the BAS’s funding body, the National Environmental Research Council.
A new facility at King Edward Point (which had been threatened with closure) had only just been occupied when the Argentines arrived at the Point. The team were interned for a short time.
When South Georgia and the Falklands were recovered, Margaret Thatcher concluded that it was in the British interest to have a continued presence in the South Atlantic and Antarctica and that scientific work there should be supported. Increased funding followed and BAS scientists are amongst the world leaders in Antarctic science. In Halley, they were the first to discover the depletion of the ozone layer over the South Pole, a discovery that informed the world of the potential damage that man could inflict on our world. The peninsula bases and the BAS headquarters in Cambridge continue their international contribution.
The importance of the peninsula had been recognised in W.W.11. Operation ‘Tabarin’ was undertaken by the Admiralty and the Colonial Office in 1943.Its aim,to establish a permanent presence in the Antarctic in response to possible territorial claims by, amongst other countries,Germany and Argentina (the latter country already staffing a base in the South Orkney Islands which was started by the Scottish explorer William Speirs Bruce of the ‘Scotia’ expedition).
The area still remains a source of disagreement between Britain and Argentina


23 Apr

The B.A.S. mounted a very interesting programme for polar enthusiasts last week.

We were shown examples of Antarctic plants (hairgrass and pearlwort), mosses.  lichens and liverworts, animals dead and live (brought back form the continent), the impressive map work, including the interesting topography of the mountains in Antarctica well below the snow line and we were given history of B.A.S. and its contribution to science.

I was fascinated by the ice cores. There are samples which reflect conditions well over 100.000.000 years ago. I was particularly interested to find how they measure the gaseous content of these samples. As I understand it the samples are placed in a vacuum, smashed to release the gases and the levels are then measured. Carbon dioxide has shown marked variation over the centuries but in recent times the level has shot up and up.

We were also shown a film about the discovery of the location of the wreck of the ‘Terra Nova’ Scott’s last ship, which was scuttled off Greenland in the 1943. I wonder what they will do with it!

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

28 Nov

David Wilson, the great nephew of Dr Edward Wilson, Scott’s friend, writes in the Telegraph Weekend, November 24th, of worries over the future funding for The British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the scientific research institute, which for years has been at the forefront of research in Antarctica. There has been a British presence in Antarctica since 1944 and one of the greatest discoveries relating to climate change, the hole in the ozone layer, was made in an inland BAS station in 1988. A huge amount of influential scientific papers have been produced.

Financial concerns have surfaced recently however. There was a proposed merger between BAS and the National Oceanographic Centre based in Southampton, which has apparently now been ditched. The Minister of State for Science David Willetts, has stated that £42 million per year has been committed for the current review period. Budget guarantees are being considered for the next spending round. But budget cuts in BAS continue.

Antarctic science is key to the understanding of climate change. Decisions about costal defences in Britain are being based on Antarctic science projections.

This is a big issue. It is important to avoid far reaching mistakes