23 February, 2007

On the eve of International Polar Year, Science and Innovation Minister Malcolm Wicks will visit British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station this week (20-25 February).

International Polar Year, which will run from 2007-08, will be the greatest international scientific collaboration into global climate change for at least 50 years.

During the visit the Minister will have an opportunity to see first-hand the prestigious UK Government funded facility that carries out world-leading research into global environmental issues.

At Rothera he will learn how human impact on the planet is observed in Antarctica. From the discovery of the ozone hole to the unique record of the Earth’s past climate found in ice cores, through to the impact that Antarctica has on the global climate system. It will demonstrate that changes to Antarctica are truly felt ‘in our back yard’, despite its great geographic distance.

British Antarctic Survey Director, Professor Chris Rapley CBE, will introduce Mr Wicks to around 100 science and support staff and brief him on the science that underpins and informs international agreements on climate change.

Mr Wicks said:

“The British Antarctic Survey is flying the flag of British science leadership. It’s important to see at first hand British science at its best.

“Antarctica is a pivotal location for exploring the science of climate change. We know that the climate in Antarctica is changing – but further urgent scientific effort is needed to understand its contribution to climate change and sea level rise. Polar research has never been more important than now.

“International Polar Year will push the frontiers of science to help answer pressing global scientific questions. The is to play a leading role, taking part in more than 50 international science programmes. We will be making a major contribution towards this truly global effort.”

Professor Rapley said:

“The visit is timely. The Polar Regions are the heat sinks of the planet, and are especially sensitive to climate change. Recent evidence indicates that the ice is responding more rapidly than had been expected.

“It is important that the Minister should be fully briefed on their current state and see for himself the work underway to address ongoing areas of uncertainty.

“The recently published Fourth Assessment Report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides a valuable body of established fact upon which the IPY will build.”

Friends of the Earth Director, Tony Juniper, said:

“The work of scientists such as those at the Rothera Research station is vitally important if we are to build an accurate picture of what our changing climate will mean for people and our planet.

“Their work underlines the need for urgent action by Government to ensure the plays its part in keeping temperatures below danger levels.”

Notes for editors:

1. Stills and a short video of the Minister in Antarctica are available from the British Antarctic Survey Press Office. Contact Linda Capper, Head of Press, PR & Education on 01223 221448, 07714 233744 or email: L.Capper@bas.ac.uk.

2. Telephone interviews with the Minister on location can be arranged with the DTI Press Office. Contact Rebecca Underhill, Senior Press Officer on the Science and Innovation Desk, on 020 7215 6403 or email rebecca.underhill@dti.gsi.gov.uk.

3. The British Antarctic Survey is a world leader in research into global issues in an Antarctic context. It is the ’s national operator and is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council. It has an annual budget of around £40 million; runs nine research programmes and operates five research stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica. More information about the work of the Survey can be found at: www.antarctica.ac.uk

4. The Office of Science and Innovation, within the DTI, is responsible for UK Science Policy and for funding basic research allocated via the Research Councils. It aims to maximise the contribution made by our science, engineering and technology skills and resources to the ’s economic development.

5. The International Polar Year is a large scientific programme focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009. IPY, organised through the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization, is the fourth polar year, following those in 1882-3, 1932-3, and 1957-8. In order to have full and equal coverage of both the Arctic and the Antarctic, IPY 2007-8 covers two full annual cycles from March 2007 to March 2009 and will involve over 200 projects, with thousands of scientists from over 60 nations examining a wide range of physical, biological and social research topics. It is also an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate, follow, and get involved with, cutting edge science in real-time.