9 January, 2024

Congratulations to British Antarctic Survey (BAS) staff who have been awarded a Polar Medal in the 2024 New Year’s Honours List for their contributions to improving our understanding of Antarctica and enduring harsh Antarctic conditions.

The Polar Medal is awarded by the Sovereign of the United Kingdom to individuals who have outstanding achievements in the field of polar research, and particularly for those who have worked over extended periods in harsh climates. It was instituted in 1857 as the Arctic Medal, and renamed the Polar Medal in 1904.

Vicky Auld, Deputy Chief Pilot 
Vicky was awarded a Second Clasp Polar Medal. She began as a wintering meteorologist at Halley Research Station in 1996. With a Masters in Atmospheric Science, she conducted weather monitoring research, including launching weather balloons and collecting snow, air and ice samples for scientists back in the UK. She later took on several Station Leader roles at Halley, King Edward Point, Bird Island and Rothera. The most challenging of which was the role as Halley Station Leader which involved managing a busy station during the first build season of Halley VI.

Transitioning later to become a pilot required significant personal investment, but flying the Twin Otter everyday in the Antarctic brings Vicky immense joy. She particularly enjoys airborne science flights, contributing to atmospheric measurements and wildlife surveys. Awarded a Polar Medal in 2007 and a Second Clasp in 2024, Vicky is reflecting on changes in her 27-year career with BAS, particularly in the progression of automation in science data gathering.

On winning the award Vicky said:

“It is a pleasure and provides me further inspiration to be among a great team, working hard and pulling together.”

A person standing on ice opening an aircraft hatch
Vicky Auld

Nicholas Gregory, Facilities Engineering Manager
Nicholas joined BAS in 2008 as a Vehicle Mechanic, overwintering at Halley in 2009 and contributing to the construction of Halley VI. He overwintered at Rothera in 2011 and Halley in 2013. Transitioning to a Facilities Engineer, he played a key role in Halley’s shift to a summer-only station. His outstanding  knowledge of Antarctic operations has always been the key to his success.

Currently, Nicholas serves as Facilities Engineering Manager, with responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of all Antarctic stations. A stand out career highlight amongst what he describes as so many incredible experiences, was involvement in the Halley Automation Project, ensuring ongoing scientific support during winters.

Nick said:

“My Career with BAS has always been enjoyable and rewarding but working directly with the turbine engine in itself, was a a particularly honourable experience. It is humbling to receive an award.”

A man on a snow covered slope, with two Twin Otter planes behind him the distance
Nicholas Gregory

Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Marine Geologist

Claus-Dieter joined BAS two decades ago as a postdoctoral researcher in marine geology. Shortly after, he secured a senior marine geologist position in projects with a glaciological focus. Subsequently, he worked on the Palaeo-Ice Sheets project within the multidisciplinary IceSheets programme before becoming a marine geologist in the Palaeo Environments, Ice Sheets and Climate Change (PICC) team. His primary focus was studying Antarctic sediments to understand past ice-sheet changes and improve computer-model predictions of future sea-level rise due to global warming.

Throughout his tenure, Claus-Dieter has collaborated on Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded projects, participated in drilling expeditions, and conducted extensive research on the vulnerable Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica.  In 2017 and 2019 he participated in two multinational drilling expeditions – two of his 18 research cruises to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean – that were the direct result of proposals he had contributed to. More recently, he took on the UK principal investigator role for one of the projects of the US-UK funded International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) programme. Claus-Dieter is grateful for the ‘countless’ colleagues across all disciplines who have allowed him to carry out his research and make significant contributions to science.

Claus-Dieter said:

“I feel very honoured and humbled to receive the Polar Medal but consider this award as the result not only of my own scientific work, but the research I have undertaken together with my colleagues at BAS and at universities and other research institutions in both the UK and other countries.”

A man wearing protective clothing and hard hat with scientific equipment
Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand. Photo credit: Peter Kaple

Simon Wright, Deck Engineer
Simon joined BAS in the summer of 1992 as the Deck Engineer aboard the RRS James Clark Ross. This position became his steadfast role for 24 years until he was later assigned to the build team for the RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA). Currently, he continues to serve as the Deck Engineer on the SDA, overseeing the maintenance of cranes, boats, and winch systems crucial for deploying scientific experiments.

While Simon finds immense satisfaction in assisting scientists during their research cruises, his most cherished memories revolve around the extraordinary wildlife encounters and the breath-taking scenery that has been his workplace for all these years. Personally witnessing whales, polar bears, and penguins alongside the ship stands out as moments he will forever treasure.

He said:

“I was both surprised and humbled to have my efforts in both the Arctic and Antarctic marked in this manner.”

A man standing in front of a snowy slope
Simon Wright