New polar research ship for UK

25 April 2014

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is to commission a new state-of-the-art polar research ship that will enable UK polar scientists to remain at the forefront of environmental research in both the Antarctic and the Arctic. The ship will be ready for operation by 2019.

Polar research ship

Early design concept of the new polar research ship

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon George Osborne MP, announced at a meeting today that the government will provide more than £200 million of capital investment for the new UK polar flagship. This investment is part of £1·1 billion annual capital budget for science and research over the next five years, announced in June 2013, which is now to be the subject of a consultation with the scientific community.

The new polar ship will provide a cutting-edge research facility with greater ice-strengthened capability and longer endurance than NERC's existing polar research ships which are coming to the end of their operational life. NERC will be working with the UK science community to refine the technical requirements for the ship to enable research with the greatest potential to deliver economic and societal benefits, placing environmental science at the heart of responsible management of our planet.

Professor Duncan Wingham, chief executive of NERC, said:

The UK's environmental science leads the world in excellence. NERC's ability to bring together the best UK polar scientists and support them by providing cutting-edge infrastructure and technology is fundamental to this success. We already know that the vast changes we have observed in the Arctic and the Antarctic will affect future climate and sea levels and the new ship will address the challenges we currently face in further exploring these environments.

This vessel will be equipped to support oceanographic, marine ecosystem, geophysical and other research activities that help us make sense of the changing polar environments. The ship's advanced capability will put the UK in a leading position to work nationally and internationally with the scientific community to understand how changes in these remote environments will impact the wider global climate, information that is essential to meeting the needs of Government, business and wider society.

The ship will be operated by NERC's British Antarctic Survey for the benefit the whole UK polar science community, including postgraduate training.

Director of British Antarctic Survey Professor Jane Francis said:

This an exciting time for UK polar science and I am delighted with this announcement. It signals a firm commitment by government and NERC to sustain and promote the UK's world-leading capability for UK research in both Antarctica and the Arctic. The last 15-20 years has seen remarkable developments in science and technology. Incorporating these new technologies in a new ice-strengthened research ship will offer a step-change in Britain's capability to deliver bigger and better science. It's fantastic news for our science teams at BAS, for our partners within UK universities, and for our collaboration with other national polar operators. We very much look forward to helping to develop the specification to enable us to make optimal use of the latest technologies in marine robotic and remotely operated instruments.

Further information

NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


1. Frontier science
The next generation polar ship will deliver world-leading capability for UK research in both Antarctica and the Arctic. Built with flexible laboratory configurations and the capability for containerised laboratories, the new ship will carry sophisticated environmental monitoring systems that will provide data from the deep ocean, the surface ocean and the atmosphere. It will also have the capability of carrying remotely-operated deep-sea vehicles, which can explore the harshest environments on the planet and explore the seabed in unprecedented detail. It will serve as a central hub from which autonomous ocean vehicles can be deployed and recovered, greatly extending the scale of data coverage that the ship alone could provide. The data collected will be central to the UK's polar research for coming decades.

The new ship will have greater endurance, to enable longer voyages which coupled with the facility to deploy helicopters will ensure significantly greater geographic coverage. The enhanced coverage will open up new locations for science, new opportunities for business, and will clearly demonstrate and reinforce the continuing British presence in Antarctica and the South Atlantic.

Key facts about the new polar research ship:

  • The ship represents a capital investment of over £200 million by the UK Government.
  • It will be a state-of-the-art science platform to be used in both the Antarctic and the Arctic.
  • It will act as a central hub for a range of data-gathering remote instruments and onboard environmental monitoring systems, including both marine and airborne robotic systems.
  • It will be able to deploy and recover large remotely-operated and autonomous marine vehicles, such as NERC's autonomous submarine 'Autosub'.
  • It will incorporate a helideck and hangar.
  • The laboratory space will be flexible to meet the evolving needs of science over the lifetime of the ship.
  • It is expected to have ice-breaking capabilities that will allow it to break ice of up to 2 metres when travelling at 3 knots.
  • The new ship can accommodate up to 60 researchers and technical support staff.
  • It will carry equipment capable of sampling and investigating the ocean abyss and the seabed.
  • The ship will have around 80 days endurance, which means it can cover up to 24,000 nautical miles.
  • It will have a cargo volume of around 4,200 cubic metres.
  • The length overall is 129·6m; breadth is 25m; draught is 7·5m, and gross tonnage is 12,790 tonnes.
  • The ship will resupply the five UK research stations in the Antarctic operated by NERC's British Antarctic Survey.

2. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £370 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS).

3. BAS, an institute of NERC, delivers and enables world-leading interdisciplinary research in the polar regions. Its skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic, work together to deliver research that uses the polar regions to advance our understanding of Earth as a sustainable planet. Through its extensive logistic capability and know-how BAS facilitates access for the British and international science community to the UK polar research operation. Numerous national and international collaborations, combined with an excellent infrastructure help sustain a world leading position for the UK in Antarctic affairs. For more information, visit the BAS website - external link.

Press release: 12/14