Geology and geophysical facilities

The geological structure and physical processes of the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean surrounding it are closely linked. With records of past climate, ecosystems and physical processes preserved in seafloor sediments and the shape of the Antarctic continental shelf, this area is essential for understanding how ice flow dynamics and long-term processes within the ice sheet interact with ocean systems surrounding the continent.

Polar research ships allow researchers to collect samples and data from remote locations using specialised equipment such as drills and corers. The resulting data include detailed maps of the seafloor that can shed light on past glacial processes and climatic changes. Sediment cores collected from the seafloor can yield accurate records of past ecosystems and climate and the way in which large-scale oceanic currents have changed over hundreds of thousands of years. Remotely operated vehicles furthermore allow researchers access to study sites that are too dangerous or difficult to reach for people, such as glacier calving faces and the undersides of ice shelves. These regions are key to understanding the changes taking place in the Antarctic ice sheet, which could have global climatic repercussions.

Geological and geophysical research into the past and present of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean aims to reduce uncertainty in predictions of future climate and sea level change, informing Government strategy for mitigating against these risks.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough will be equipped with state-of-the-art drilling, coring and echo-sounding equipment for geophysical and geological studies. Using its dynamic positioning system, the ship will be able to hold its position accurately even during rough seas to allow for effective sampling.