British Antarctic Survey

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is the United Kingdom's national polar research institute. It has a dual purpose, to conduct polar science, enabling better understanding of global issues, and to provide an active presence in the Antarctic on behalf of the UK. It is part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). With over 400 staff, BAS takes an active role in Antarctic affairs, operating five research stations, one ship 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.

British Antarctic Survey
Legal statusGovernment organisation
PurposeScientific research and surveys in the Antarctic, Arctic & related regions
HeadquartersCambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
Region served
United Kingdom
Professor Dame Jane Francis
Parent organisation
Natural Environment Research Council
£48,053,000 (2011–12)[1]
400+ staff

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] Since April 2018 NERC has been part of UK Research and Innovation.[7]


BAS Logo

In 1956, the FID Scientific Bureau and FIDS Rear Base were combined into a single FIDS London Office, with a Director for the first time responsible for the whole London operation.[8]

  Denotes service as acting director
Portrait Director Term start Term end
Raymond Priestley 1956 1958
Vivian Fuchs 1958 1973
Richard Laws 1973 1987
David Drewry 1987 1994
Chris Rapley 1998 2007
Nick Owens 2007 2012
Alan Rodger 2012 2013
Jane Francis 2013 Incumbent

Research stations


Sky Blu
Fossil Bluff
Halley VI
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.[9] Before 2017 Halley was also open year-round.[10]

South Georgia

Bird Island
King Edward Point
BAS research stations in South Georgia

The BAS also operates two permanent bases on South Georgia:[11]

Both South Georgia bases are manned throughout the year.

Other sites

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.[12]

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.[13]



RRS Sir David Attenborough docked in Liverpool

As of 2021, the Survey operates one ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, for support of Arctic and Antarctic research operations, and other logistical work.[14] It replaced RRS James Clark Ross and RRS Ernest Shackleton, which was sold in 2021 and returned to its owners in 2019, respectively. Originally, the Admiralty provided the FIDS[nb 1] with ship support. In 1947 the Survey purchased their first vessel, which was named MV John Biscoe, and in 1953 the same ship was granted Royal Research Ship status. Since then the Survey has owned and chartered several vessels.[15][16]

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. Vessels undergo refit and drydock during the Antarctic winter, but are also used elsewhere during this period.

The 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.[17] 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.[18]


A BAS Twin Otter at Springbank

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).[19] 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.[20]

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.[20]


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.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23][24]

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


  1. Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, direct predecessor to the BAS


  1. "Business Plan 2011" (PDF). British Antarctic Survey. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  2. "BAS Vision and Mission". British Antarctic Survey. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  3. "British Research Stations and Refuges – History". British Antarctic Survey. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  4. McKie, Robin (29 September 2012). "Antarctic research at risk as government cuts back on science". The Observer. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  5. "Think again on British Antarctic Survey merger say Science and Technology Committee". UK Parliament Website. 31 October 2012. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  6. Carrington, Damian; McKie, Robin (4 November 2012). "Research boss Wingham in trouble over British Antarctic Survey claim". The Observer. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  7. "Who we are". UK Research and Innovation. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  8. Fuchs, Sir Vivian E. (1982). Of Ice and Men. The Story of the British Antarctic Survey 1943-1973. Anthony Nelson.
  9. Blake, David (September 2005). "Extreme Engineering". Ingenia (24). Archived from the original on 2 October 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2010.
  10. Patrick Sawer (5 December 2015). "The ice station that needs saving from the abyss". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  11. "Research Stations in Antarctica". British Antarctic Survey. Retrieved 31 December 2007.
  12. "BAS Cambridge". British Antarctic Survey. Retrieved 31 December 2007.
  13. "Ny-Ålesund Arctic Research Station". British Antarctic Survey. Archived from the original on 23 December 2007. Retrieved 2 January 2008.
  14. "Research ships".
  15. "History of BAS ships".
  16. "MV/RRS John Biscoe (1)".
  17. "HMS Endurance – Ice Patrol Vessel". British Antarctic Survey. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 31 December 2007.
  18. "Protector sails on her debut voyage to the ice". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 2 December 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
  19. "Global Airline Guide 2019 (Part One)". Airliner World (October 2019): 13.
  20. "Aircraft in Antarctica". British Antarctic Survey. Archived from the original on 29 January 2008. Retrieved 31 December 2007.
  21. "The Ozone Layer". British Antarctic Survey. 18 May 2015. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  22. Black, Richard (20 January 2008). "Ancient Antarctic eruption noted". BBC News. Retrieved 28 March 2010.
  23. "Throng of new penguin colonies in Antarctica spotted from space". The Guardian. 5 August 2020. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  24. "Scientists discover new penguin colonies from space". British Antarctic Survey. 5 August 2020. Retrieved 5 August 2020.

Further reading

  • "History of BAS Research Stations". British Antarctic Survey, history. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  • Bingham, E. W. (1947). "The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1946-47". Polar Record. 5 (33–34): 27–39. doi:10.1017/S0032247400037165. S2CID 140158872.
  • Bryan, Rorke (2011). Ordeal by Ice: Ships of the Antarctic. Seaforth Publishing.
  • Dudeney, J. R.; Walton, D. W. (2012). "From Scotia to Operation Tabarin - Developing British Policy for Antarctica". Polar Record. 48 (4): 342–360. doi:10.1017/S0032247411000520. S2CID 145613031.
  • Fogg, G. E. (1992). A History of Antarctic Science. Cambridge University Press.
  • Fuchs, V. E. (1951). "The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1947-50". Polar Record. 6 (41): 7–27. doi:10.1017/S0032247400040894. S2CID 251050677.
  • Fuchs, Sir Vivian E. (1973). Evolution of a Venture in Antarctic Science - Operation Tabarin and the British Antarctic Survey in Frozen Future edited by Lewis, R. S. and Smith, P.M. New York: Quadrangle Books. pp. 234–239.
  • Haddelsey, S. (2014). Operation Tabarin: Britain's Secret Wartime Expedition to Antarctica, 1944–46. Stroud: History Press. ISBN 9780752493565.
  • Headland, Robert K. (2020). A Chronology of Antarctic Exploration. Cambridge University Press.
  • James, D. P. (1949). That Frozen Land. Falcon Press.
  • Pearce, Gerry (2018). Operation Tabarin 1943-45 and its Postal History. ISBN 978-1-78926-580-4.
  • Robertson, S. C. (1993). Operation Tabarin. BAS. Information booklet produced for 50th anniversary.
  • Walton, Kevin; Atkinson, Rick (1995). Of Dogs and Men: Fifty Years in the Antarctic. Illustrated Story of the Dogs of the British Antarctic Survey. Images (Booksellers & Distributors) Ltd. ISBN 1-897817-55-X.
  • Wordie, J. M. (1946). "The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1943-6". Polar Record. 4 (32): 372–384. doi:10.1017/S0032247400042479. S2CID 129588807.
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