Operational facilities – RRS Sir David Attenborough
Boats, cargo, helideck and hangar
The RRS Sir David Attenborough is one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world. The state-of-the-art ship departed the UK for its maiden voyage on 17 November 2021.
In October 2020 the technical sea trials and scientific equipment testing began and the ship was handed over to NERC and BAS by shipbuilder Cammell Laird on 27 November 2020. This multidisciplinary research platform will transform how ship-borne science is conducted in the polar regions and provide scientists with state-of-the-art facilities to research the oceans, seafloor, ice and atmosphere.
The new polar ship was commissioned by NERC, built by Cammell Laird for operation by British Antarctic Survey. The commissioning of the RRS Sir David Attenborough is part of a major Government investment in polar infrastructure which will keep Britain at the forefront of world-leading research in Antarctica and the Arctic. This £200m commitment represents the UK Government‘s largest investment in polar science since the 1980s.
Explore the ship’s scientific facilities and operational capability
Britain has been a world leader in polar exploration and research for over a century. Today, studying these remote regions is crucial in helping us understand changes in our planet’s oceans, marine life and climate system.
The RRS James Clark Ross was sold in August 2021 and the RRS Ernest Shackleton, was returned to its owners in 2019, after 20 years of polar duties for BAS. This means a new, modern platform for Arctic and Antarctic research is needed. Operated by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), RRS Sir David Attenborough will be available year-round to the UK research community, including postgraduate trainees.
RRS Sir David Attenborough is designed to support science in extreme environments. A wide range of specialist scientific facilities, instruments and laboratories enable scientists to conduct multi-disciplinary sciences to study the ocean, seafloor, ice and atmosphere. Marine robotics and remotely operated vehicles – including the famous Boaty McBoatface – will capture data from the deep ocean and previously inaccessible locations under the ice.
From the ship, scientists can deploy, operate and control a range of remotely piloted science instruments at the same time, meaning they can gather measurements from both airborne and marine remotely operated vehicles and autonomous platforms simultaneously.
She is also the first British polar research ship to feature a moon pool – a vertical shaft (~4 x 4 m) running through the vessel, open to both the air and sea. Using the moon pool, scientific equipment can be deployed and recovered through the centre, and most stable part, of the hull. This is easier and safer than deploying equipment over the side or stern, particularly in the polar oceans’ rough seas.
The ship has a number of built-in laboratories. However, it’s also possible to ‘plug-in’ portable, containerised laboratories. This makes science on board the RRS Sir David Attenborough much more flexible and, as technologies and techniques change, the containers can be reconfigured to ensure research teams have the facilities they need to conduct world-leading science.
The new polar ship for Britain will operate year-round. She will spend the northern summer supporting Arctic research cruises and the austral summer in Antarctica carrying out research programmes and bringing people and supplies to BAS research stations.
Her ice-strengthened hull, designed to break through ice up to one metre thick, and ability to spend up to 60 days at sea means the RRS Sir David Attenborough can undertake extensive voyages. The ship’s operational facilities will enable her to undertake logistics work efficiently, maximising the time spent on research cruises.
Watch a tour of the RRS Sir David Attenborough:
RRS Sir David Attenborough provides UK polar researchers and their international collaborators with a state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary research platform to study the ocean, seafloor, ice and atmosphere.
It’s critical that we understand the role that the polar oceans play in our changing world. The Southern Ocean in particular has the sparsest data coverage of any of the world’s major oceans due to its remoteness and inhospitable nature. RRS Sir David Attenborough will play an important role in improving our knowledge of key polar atmospheric and oceanic processes, which regulate our climate. She will also enhance our knowledge of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, essential for conserving and managing Antarctica’s species and biological resources.
International studies focusing on the changing Arctic are also being enhanced by this new facility. The ship enables scientists to investigate the impact that physical and biological changes in the Arctic environment will have on Arctic and non-Arctic countries alike.
At both poles, researchers will carry out marine geophysical and geological investigations to map and date glacial landforms and sediments on the seafloor to reconstruct past environments. This is fundamental for helping predict how the polar regions may respond to future climate change and contribute to global sea-level rise.
Deputy Science Leader of Palaeo Environments - IMP 3
BAS-Arctic Working Group, Palaeo Environments, Ice Sheets and Climate Change team
Project Communications and Engagement Manager
Boats, cargo, helideck and hangar
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