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British government okays £200 million Antarctic science ship

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April 28, 2014

Early design concept of the new polar research ship

Early design concept of the new polar research ship

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What’s big and red and costs £200 million? The answer is the new flagship of Britain’s polar research fleet complete with helideck and robot submarines. On Friday at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne announced that the British government had authorized the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to go ahead with the design and construction of a new state-of-the-art vessel for polar research and to maintain the British presence in Antarctica and the South Atlantic.

Currently, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) operates two research ships in Antarctica: the RRS James Clark Ross, which was launched 1990, and the RRS Ernest Shackleton, launched 1995. According to the NERC, both these vessels are now reaching the end of their service lives and a larger, more advanced ship is needed that is better able to break through ice packs.

The £200 million (US$336 million) for the yet-unnamed ship is part of a £1.1 billion (US$1.8 billion) annual capital budget for science and research over the next five years. Though the exact design specifications are still under development, the new ship, which will be used in both the Antarctic and the Arctic, will be 129.6 m (425 ft) long, 25 m (82 ft) abeam, have a draught of 7.5 m (24 ft), displace 12,790 tonnes (14,098 tons), and have 4,200 cubic meters (148,000 cubic feet) of cargo space.

Inside the bright-red hull, it will carry 60 scientists and support staff, and will be able to break its way through ice up to 2 m (6.5 ft) thick when steaming at 3 knots (3.4 mph, 5.5 km/h). This not only increases the reach of the ship in the ice pack, but also the times of the year it can be used. In addition, it will have an operational range of 80 days or 24,000 nm (27,000 mi, 44,000 km).

The new ship will be able to deploy robot submarines

The NERC says that when the ship enters service in 2019, it will be the most advanced research ship afloat with flexible laboratory configurations, the ability to use containerized laboratories, environmental monitoring systems for studying the air, deep water regions, and the seabed, a helideck and hanger for deploying helicopters. It will also have the ability to act as a central hub from which it will control autonomous ocean vehicles, UAVs, robotic submarines, and underwater gliders. In addition, the ship will resupply the five UK Antarctic research stations operated by the British Antarctic Survey.

“Understanding the polar oceans is absolutely key to understanding the big questions about our global environment,” says Professor Mike Meredith, Leader of the BAS Polar Oceans science program and Deputy Director of Science. “During the last 100 years British scientists have made incredible discoveries about our planet – for example, we now know that the Southern Ocean is a vast natural sink that absorbs carbon dioxide and regulates our climate. Our long-term studies have helped understand the marine food chain, and have proven to be critical for sustainable management of commercial fisheries. Surveys of the deep ocean have yielded vital discoveries about marine biodiversity and informed an international census of marine life.

"With recent advances in technology we've been able to combine ship-based science with robotic instruments to investigate what happens when ocean water melts Antarctic ice shelves and how it may influence future sea-level rise. In the Arctic, our ship-borne studies have shed new light on the consequences of the shrinking sea ice for ocean circulation, climate and the ecosystem. This new ship will build on this legacy of internationally outstanding research, and will, lead to ground-breaking and exciting discoveries that will ultimately generate new knowledge that benefits our society and economy.”

Source: NERC

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
6 Comments

But surely with all that ice that is melting at such a rapid pace they won't need a ship with a super strong hull to break 2 meter ice?

Just recommission an old naval ship. That ought to do it.

Gosh in the time it will take to build this ship all the water at the poles will have melted anyway!

Pacific Oyster
29th April, 2014 @ 02:15 am PDT

I think that is really cool, pun intended. :)

It seems since they closed the hole in the ozone, the south pole is melting faster (perhaps the north pole getting bigger is compensating for it?). It seems that hole in the ozone was letting the heat out and keeping the south pole cold. I don't believe it is melting that fast to keep this ship from being made and serving a purpose.

BigGoofyGuy
29th April, 2014 @ 06:20 am PDT

Sure as hell wouldn't happen in Canada where Harper is wrecking the scientific community unless it is in service to industry. Good to see someone doing something right.

MadMaxx
29th April, 2014 @ 06:35 am PDT

Just be sure to equip it with a accessories so it can be towed. Last winter we had a global warming research vessel that got stuck in polar ice that wasn't supposed to be there. They had to call a Russian ship that had to call a Polish ship that had to call a Chinese ship to get all of them out of the ice.

Most news reports omitted that the mission was to document evidence of global warming since the obvious lack thereof was a very inconvenient truth.

AllenH
29th April, 2014 @ 10:09 am PDT

The new science-ship should be nuclear-powered like the latest Russian icebreaker. However, instead of the usual plutonium-based reactor, they should use a thorium-based reactor.

JBC234
29th April, 2014 @ 09:28 pm PDT

@ JBC234

I prefer a pumpless sodium reactor design.

Slowburn
2nd May, 2014 @ 08:59 pm PDT
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