Boats, cargo, helideck and hangar
RRS Sir David Attenborough
RRS Sir David Attenborough
- Autumn 2020 onwards
- Summer: 90, Winter: 90
A new polar research ship for Britain
The RRS Sir David Attenborough was handed over to NERC and BAS by shipbuilder Cammell Laird on 27 November 2020. The ship is expected to commence polar operations in 2021 after a period of intensive mariner training, testing and trialling the many technical, scientific and operational features and capabilities. The RRS Sir David Attenborough is one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world.
In October 2020 the technical sea trials and scientific equipment testing began. 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.
Exploring new frontiers
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 is nearing the end of her 25-year lifespan 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.
Discover how the RRS Sir David Attenborough will support scientists conducting vital research in the polar regions
- Length: 129 metres; beam: 24m; Gross Tonnage: 15,000
- Scientific cargo volume of approximately 900m³
- Endurance – up to 60 days
- Range 19,000 nautical miles at 13 knots (24 km/h) cruising speed; more than enough for a return trip from England to Rothera Research Station, or to circle the entire Antarctic continent twice!
- Ice breaking capability – up to 1m thick at 3 knots (5.6 km/h)
- Bow and stern thrusters for excellent dynamic positioning in challenging conditions
- Launch and recovery of aerial and ocean robotic systems
- Crew approx. 30
- Accommodation for up to 60 scientists and support staff
Enhanced scientific capability
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.
Building a new polar vessel
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.
- Atmospheric science
- Biological Oceanography
- Chemical Oceanography (Biogeochemistry)
- Physical Oceanography
- Marine Geophysics
- Marine Geology
- Reconfigurable laboratory space to meet evolving science needs over the lifetime of the vessel, with docking stations for containerised laboratories for additional flexibility
- Computing and communication facilities to enable seamless collection, processing, storage and real-time transmission of scientific data
- Enhanced deck facilities including science hangar, winches and a moon-pool for flexible and reliable deployment and retrieval of scientific equipment such as remotely operated vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles, even in rough weather and in pack ice
- Small boats and diving facilities to enable sampling in shallow coastal areas and under pack ice
- Helideck and hangar for two small helicopters to assist with the deployment of airborne scientific instruments and scientific field parties
- Sophisticated environmental sensor systems to continuously monitor atmosphere, water-column and seabed conditions
- Rock drills and sediment corers to collect seafloor samples offering valuable insights into past environmental conditions
- Seismic systems to examine the structure and evolution of the seafloor
- Capability to deploy, operate and control large numbers of remotely piloted science instruments at the same time
- Robotic submarines and marine gliders will collect data on ocean conditions and marine biology and deliver it to scientists working in the ship’s on-board laboratories
- Airborne robots and on-board environmental monitoring systems will provide detailed information on the surrounding polar environment
Deputy Science Leader of Palaeo Environments
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Scientific facilities and capability
The Polar Code and green technologies
Accommodation, dining, medical and recreation
20 April, 2017 by Paul Fox
Paul Fox, Senior Responsible Officer for RRS Sir David Attenborough, has written a guest blog for a behind-the-scenes look at NERC’s commission of a new polar research ship for Britain and the associated Antarctic infrastructure modernisation programme.
18 March, 2021
CAMBRIDGE: British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is today notifying the UK marine polar research community of its intention to re-schedule RRS Sir David Attenborough’s (SDA) ice trials, science capability and equipment …
15 March, 2021
A new unmanned robotic vehicle on the RRS Sir David Attenborough will help scientists to understand the impact of glaciers on sea-level rise.
8 February, 2021
On Sunday 7 February 2021 the UK’s most advanced polar research ship – RRS Sir David Attenborough – left Holyhead for sea trials.
26 January, 2021
RRS Sir David Attenborough’s workboat, Terror, has won Best Landing Craft in the 2020 Work Boat World Awards. The boats were judged on the design, build and functionality of the …
18 December, 2020
Staff at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ships and research stations prepare to celebrate the festive season. It’s been a year like no other, with extraordinary arrangements made to keep facilities …
18 December, 2020
Britain’s new polar ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, has been registered on the British register of ships at Stanley, Falkland Islands. This continues the long tradition of registering British …
17 November, 2020
The new polar research ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough begins technical trials
21 October, 2020
BIRKENHEAD. Today (Wednesday 21 October) the UK’s most advanced polar research ship – RRS Sir David Attenborough – leaves Cammell Laird shipyard for two weeks of technical sea trials. In …
1 June, 2020
EXETER. There is great excitement this week for British Antarctic Survey and the RRS Sir David Attenborough as Captain Will Whatley and Chief Engineer Luke Parnell put the cargo tender …
7 April, 2020
Exceptional plans to repatriate our people at the end of the Antarctic summer field season
30 January, 2020
In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the first sighting of Antarctica by the British naval officer Edward Bransfield on this date in 1820, a new building to facilitate the …
16 January, 2020
BIRKENHEAD. The RRS Sir David Attenborough achieved two important milestones at Cammell Laird’s shipyard this month with the commissioning and testing of lifeboats and power systems. The ship is in …
20 October, 2019
A new work by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage celebrates the RRS Sir David Attenborough. In this video Simon describes his inspiration for the poem, which can be read in full …
26 September, 2019
The UK’s new polar research ship is formally named the RRS Sir David Attenborough today [Thursday 26 September] by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In their first engagement of …
5 September, 2019
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough will attend the Royal Ceremonial Naming of the New Polar Research Ship at the Cammell Laird shipyard on Thursday 26 …
21 May, 2019
ANTARCTICA: At the onset of the Antarctic winter British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Rothera Research Station bids farewell to 50 construction workers. They have spent the last six months building the …
26 March, 2019
New polar ship takes to the water once again
19 July, 2018
BIRKENHEAD. The superstructure of the new polar research ship for Britain, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, is now on top of the hull. Following the launch of the RRS Sir …
18 July, 2018
Report published July 2018
16 July, 2018
The majestic red hull of the RRS Sir David Attenborough glided in the River Mersey on Saturday 14 July. The launch button was pressed by the naturalist and broadcaster Sir …
11 July, 2018
RRS Sir David Attenborough hull launch into River Mersey 14 July Update 20 July 2018 – watch video of launch A major milestone in the build of the UK’s state-of-the-art …
20 April, 2018
Deadline for proposals 5 July 2018
2 February, 2018
Fifteen research institutes from around the world, including British Antarctic Survey, have joined forces to allow scientists access to their polar ships to carry out marine-based research in the Arctic. …
15 January, 2018
Take a closer look at Engineering in BAS
27 October, 2017
The RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA) just got another step closer to completion as the Hamburg Ship Model Basin (HSVA) investigated the aerodynamic performance of Britain’s new polar research vessel using a computer generated ‘virtual wind tunnel’
29 September, 2017
Rolls-Royce is marking a major milestone on the journey towards the completion of Britain’s new polar research vessel the RRS Sir David Attenborough being built by Merseyside shipyard Cammell Laird.
29 August, 2017
The “stern section” of the new polar research ship for Britain, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, arrived at Cammell Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead this weekend (27 August 2017). The video …
7 April, 2017
The unmanned submersible Boaty McBoatface was deployed in the Antarctic for the first time.
17 October, 2016
Keel-laying ceremony at Cammell Laird
6 May, 2016
UK’s £200m Polar Research Ship to be named after Sir David Attenborough, days before the broadcaster’s 90th birthday “Boaty McBoatface” to live on as the name of the ship’s high-tech …
23 November, 2015
The contract for the UK’s new polar research ship was signed NERC’s Chief Operating Office Paul Fox and Cammell Laird Chief Executive, John Syvret CBE on Friday 19 November 2015 …
12 October, 2015
Government announces preferred bidder to build new polar ship Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson announced today that the preferred bidder to build a new polar research …
25 April, 2014
New polar research ship for UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon George Osborne MP announced this week (Friday 25 April 2014) that the Government has earmarked more than …
A new research platform to put UK scientists at the forefront of polar science
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Science at Sea