Science strategy

Polar Science for a Sustainable Planet

Science Strategy 2023-2033

Our planet is undergoing a period of unprecedented change. The climate is warming, biodiversity is declining, and natural resources are being used up. The rate and scale of change is unlike anything seen in human history. Globally, societies are also changing and now increasingly depend on vulnerable networks of technology both on the ground and in space.

The frozen regions of our planet are experiencing some of the most significant changes. As temperatures rise, ice melts, with consequences that already impact people’s lives. Although Earth’s polar regions may seem remote, changes there inevitably go on to influence societies and natural systems the world over.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is the UK’s centre for polar research. It seeks to provide the highest quality information about the state of these frozen regions: how and why they are changing and what they might look like in the future. BAS scientists will provide the robust scientific understanding needed for evidence-based policy decision-making, and to audit the long-term effects of policy changes. Our vision over this 10-year strategy is to deliver the scientific evidence needed by decision-makers in policy, industry, and society, to move us towards a sustainable future.

The five Polar Science for a Sustainable Planet Science Themes:

Theme 1: Climate Change Science for Developing Resilience  targets how the Arctic and Antarctic respond to and mitigate climate change

Theme 2: Conserving Polar Biodiversity focusses on how biodiversity at the poles responds to change

Theme 3: Protecting Coastal and Technical Infrastructure addresses the impact on infrastructure and societies of sea level rise and space weather

Theme 4: Sustaining Livelihoods and Societies considers environmental changes across Earth’s frozen regions and how these affect societies and livelihoods

Theme 5: Safeguarding our Future addresses potential severe impacts of reaching thresholds and triggering extreme changes in the polar environment


Working in collaboration

Polar research transcends boundaries – no one country has the expertise or logistical capability to independently perform the needed research. Our work relies on co-operation, partnerships, and sharing best practice. We work inclusively and positively with colleagues in the UK and internationally, and develop the next generation of polar researchers who will carry forward this vital work in the future. Importantly, we work closely with stakeholders and decision-makers, in policy, industry, and society, to inform ongoing activities and to provide the key information they need to deliver robust policies and actions for a sustainable planet.

Our unique capability

We bring together world-leading scientific experts, artificial intelligence, and sophisticated numerical models to make sense of environmental data collected in harsh remote environments by state-of-the-art polar infrastructure. This infrastructure includes modernised research stations, the cutting-edge capabilities of the UK’s polar research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough, survey aircraft, satellite remote sensing, autonomous observing platforms, and fleets of automated underwater vehicles and airborne drones. Our programme is designed to deliver science within the net zero carbon commitments of BAS, UKRI-NERC, and the UK.

Over our 10-year strategy, BAS will play a leading and collaborative role with our national and international partners, including with industry, to develop digital twins of the Polar Regions. This digital twin approach will enable, for the first time, the integration and sharing of data across our polar infrastructure, tools and equipment, from vehicles and sensors to AI algorithms and models. Key outcomes will be improved decision-making and boost to scientific discovery.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough at Rothera Research Station. Photo credit_Will Clark

Science into policy

We work closely with other research groups, governments, international development organisations, universities and businesses all over the world to collect and interpret crucial scientific data that shapes policy, protects the environment and ultimately improves people’s lives. Read more about this science into policy

Science delivery

We will deliver our ambitious ten-year strategy through a wide variety of science programmes and by continuing to work with our UK and international collaborators. To answer the big questions about Antarctica’s contribution to global sea-level rise we’ll build on our research of the West Antarctic glaciers, achieved through collaborations such as the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. Changing sea ice conditions in Antarctica will be better understood through programmes like DEFIANT, and how nutrients nourish and affect the polar oceans will be revealed through BIOPOLE. OCEAN:ICE is exploring how the ice and ocean interacts and are changing as our climate warms. Southern Ocean Clouds is focussed on understanding clouds over the Southern Ocean and how they impact regional and global climate. MesoS2D will accurately predict impacts of space weather and climate variability on the whole atmosphere, whilst SWIMMR-T will study the effects of space debris. Looking north, KANG-GLAC will explore the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and its impact on ocean circulation and marine productivity. Our polar expertise will continue to look at past, present and future water security in the mountains in the European Alps and Himalayas through The Big Thaw. Read the full range of BAS research projects

Delivering critical science with reduced carbon emissions

Understanding how the polar regions are changing, and the consequences for the wider Earth, is fundamental to deliver policies for a sustainable planet. As a world-leading environmental science organisation, we commit to delivering this research at the lowest possible carbon cost and in line with the BAS Net Zero Carbon Strategy and NERC/UKRI targets.

To do this we will:

  • Embed carbon-reduction thinking and sustainability into everything we do
  • Deploy autonomous platforms rather than ships or aircraft, where possible, to collect key data
  • Optimise data collection with novel digital techniques including machine learning
  • Optimise field work planning and shipping to maximise outputs including data collection with minimum fuel use
  • Deploy low carbon instruments, supported where possible by renewable energy
  • Work with international partners to coordinate fieldwork and logistics
  • Maximise use of field data, through use of numerical modelling and autonomous technologies such as AI image analysis
  • Use Net-Zero Cloud computing providers where possible
  • Embrace the NERC “virtual first” travel strategy, calculate our travel emissions each year, and ensure reductions
  • Prioritise the attendance of early-career researchers at conferences