17 December, 2021 AIMP, SDA

Britain’s new polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, has travelled to Antarctica on its maiden voyage, with its first call today (17 December) at Rothera Research Station – the UK’s largest Antarctic research station on the continent.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough departed the UK in November, arriving in the Falkland Islands three-and-a-half weeks later. From there, the ship continued its voyage, officially entering Antarctica on 13 December. The ship has now arrived at British Antarctic Survey’s largest research facility, transporting station personnel, food, fuel and cargo.

RRS Sir David Attenborough arrival at Rothera Wharf in Antarctica
RRS Sir David Attenborough arrival at Rothera Wharf in Antarctica. Credit: Will Clark

The RRS Sir David Attenborough’s arrival at Rothera Research Station also marks the first time the new purpose-built £40m wharf has been used to berth the ship. The 74-metre wharf was completed in 2020 by the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation (AIMP). It enables Britain’s new polar research ship to berth safely and help the station run more efficiently with a new crane to launch small science boats, a personnel gangway and a floating pontoon to deploy scientific instruments. The wharf achieved the first sustainability CEEQUAL award in Antarctica for construction projects last July, gaining the highest rating available of ‘Excellent’ by BRE.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough’s arrival also marks the start of the new construction season with activity on the Discovery Building for the third year in a row – a new state of the art, science and operations facility for Rothera Research Station. Due to the harsh, cold Antarctic environment, construction can only take place during the Antarctic summer months. Over 50 members of a specialist construction team arrived last month and will work until April on erecting the main steel structure, installation of ground floor pre-cast concrete slabs, ground drainage and site wide services.

RRS Sir David Attenborough alongside Rothera Wharf
RRS Sir David Attenborough alongside Rothera Wharf. Credit: Will Clark

Upgrades to Rothera Research Station, including the wharf and Discovery Building, were commissioned by UKRI-NERC to ensure Britain remains at the forefront of polar science. The construction partnership includes BAM, design consultants Sweco, and Hugh Broughton Architects providing delivery design. Ramboll is acting as Technical Advisors, with architects NORR providing concept design. The partnership is working on upgrading old Antarctic buildings, with sustainability embedded into the design, construction and operation of new infrastructure.

Will Whatley, Captain of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, says:

“Everyone on board is thrilled to arrive at Rothera for the first time. This is a really exciting and proud moment for us, and another huge milestone to have achieved. As we’ve travelled further South we’ve had the chance to put the ship through its paces in Antarctic conditions – and I’m pleased to report the ship has performed really well”.

RRS Sir David Attenborough at Rothera Wharf, overlooking the runway
RRS Sir David Attenborough at Rothera Wharf, overlooking the runway. Credit: Jaskiran Nagi

Jon Ager, Programme Director (AIMP), British Antarctic Survey, says:

“The ship is a state-of-the-art research and logistics vessel, enabled by world-class infrastructure, that has been delivered by an amazing team of professional and technical experts from BAS and our industry partners. As we look to the next stage of modernisation, the Discovery building and investment in future infrastructure will focus on reducing our carbon footprint and on our custodianship of a truly remarkable environment and community that provides us with the leading science that BAS is renowned for.”

After calling at Rothera, the RRS Sir David Attenborough will continue its mission South, making calls at Signy, King Edward Point and Bird Island research stations, and heading to the Stange Ice Front for its ice trials.