National Capability for Global Challenges

Polar Expertise – Supporting Development

Start date
1 April, 2017
End date
2 April, 2023

Applying our national capability to global challenges

Working in the Polar Regions, BAS has developed a wide range of expertise, instrumentation and modelling techniques that have the potential to be applied for the benefit of people and communities around the world. This strand of our research capability contributes to the UK Government’s target on Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Specifically we deliver research development benefits in diverse geographical areas, including two of the most isolated island communities in the world, and high in the Himalayas.

Workpackage 1 South Atlantic Islands

The food security and economies of isolated island communities in the South Atlantic, in particular Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, are heavily reliant on harvesting marine resources and, to a lesser degree, tourism. Most of these resources are taken from the small coastal shelf areas and seamounts that are isolated in vast areas of deep ocean. Understanding how vulnerable these resources are to current and future harvesting, climate change and species invasion will be key to maintaining the future economic and cultural security of these communities.

Working with our partners CEFAS, RSPB, we will deploy a multi-disciplinary team on board RRS James Clark Ross to construct a food-web for the exploited marine populations that will allow us to identify critical links in the food chain and to assess their vulnerability. Scientific cruises and land-based fieldwork will be complemented by ocean model simulations, allowing us to understand the variability and eventually to identify any longer term trends, including climate change signals.

The RRS James Clark Ross is used for biodiversity research cruises

The key to this project is that it will integrate all previous studies to develop a long term study methodology that will improve our understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental change to the coastal shelf ecosystem. It will leave a legacy of robust oceanographic and food web modelling that will provide the scientific information necessary to develop policies to manage marine  ecosystem resources, especially those relating to food security and eco-tourism. Moreover, whilst feeding directly into island governmental planning, the outputs from this research will also feed into a number of international organisations that are actively involved in conservation of marine biodiversity.

Workpackage 2 Water Resources of the Upper Indus

Almost 95% of Indus river flow is extracted to feed the world’s largest system of irrigated agriculture, particularly in Indian and Pakistani Punjab, which supports 237 million people and growing. The Indus river system originates in the western Himalayas, fed by snow and glacier melt and precipitation. Snow cover and glaciers in this region have shrunk dramatically in recent years, posing a serious threat to this water supply, but almost none of its thousands of glaciers have any ice thickness measurements and so the size of the region’s ice reserves is unknown. Furthermore, the fundamental precipitation inputs to this river basin are sparsely measured and poorly understood.

This project these deficiencies by adapting existing BAS polar radar techniques to survey glacier volumes from the air, and developing a high resolution atmospheric model to characterise local climate variability (particularly by improving its representation of cloud microphysics and how this affects simulated precipitation).

RADAR equipped twin otter

When linked to wider glacio-hydrological modelling studies (e.g. those to be undertaken by partners in India) this will lead to better understanding of present-day and future water availability, resulting in better informed policy decisions on Indus river water use.

Capabilities: applying BAS Science to Global Challenges

A key aspect of our Vision for British Antarctic Survey is to to be a world-leading centre for polar science and polar operations, addressing issues of global importance and helping society adapt to a changing world.  Part of our Mission is to be a research-driven organisation partner of choice for science, operations and business wherever polar expertise can be applied.  To achieve these aspirations  this project will:

  • apply our national capability to global challenges in support of the UK Official Development Assistance
  • create productive partnerships that enable our polar expertise to be applied for the benefit of people and communities in geographical regions that require assistance
  • contribute our scientific and technology expertise towards international efforts to improve global food security and access to clean water

Collaborative partners work package 1

  • Government of Tristan da Cunha
  • Government of St Helena
  • RSPB

Collaborative partners work package 2

  • National Institute of Hydrology (NIH)
  • VIT University
  • Divecha Centre for Climate Change (DCCC)
  • National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting
  • TERI University
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • Mott McDonald
  • International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)