Grand Challenge 4. Polar Frontiers

Challenge 4. Polar Frontiers – exploring the frontiers of knowledge

The issue

The polar regions still have the capacity to amaze, and astound. But despite the considerable progress of recent decades, we still know far less about them than less remote parts of the world. Recent technological advances in remote sensing from land, sea, and space mean it is now possible to survey previously inaccessible areas.

In the Arctic and Antarctic we can observe the exciting and extraordinary, and address globally-significant questions, from tectonic history to the development of life in extreme environments.

Autosub pre-deployment checks onboard RRS James Clark Ross during the JR58 autosub cruise.  The autonomous unmanned vehicle (AUV) Autosub-2 travels beneath sea ice carrying a  variety of scientific instruments  to inaccessible parts of the ocean,  to make measurements of Antarctic krill distribution and abundance, and of ice thickness.
Autosub pre-deployment checks onboard RRS James Clark Ross during the JR58 autosub cruise. The autonomous unmanned vehicle (AUV) Autosub-2 travels beneath sea ice carrying a variety of scientific instruments to inaccessible parts of the ocean, to make measurements of Antarctic krill distribution and abundance, and of ice thickness.

Our expertise

BAS has a strong record of delivering cutting-edge, ambitious science in the remotest of regions. We use our own expertise to develop innovative new instrumentation and logistic solutions, and can call on scientists and technologists with direct experience in working in extreme environments. In recent years, in partnership with polar and non-polar scientists alike, we have explored some of the most remote and extraordinary environments on Earth. We used AUTOSUB, developed by the National Oceanography Centre to explore the most inaccessible parts of the world’s oceans, hundreds of metres between Antarctic ice shelves, and began to understand how the oceans are melting the ice sheet of Antarctica from below. As part of an international team we mapped the most southerly mountain range in the world, which for millions of years has laid buried beneath the Antarctic ice. But frontiers exist on all scales, and in the laboratory too, we are applying techniques such as whole genome sequencing to assess mechanisms and rates of evolutionary change, and the adaptive capacities of polar organisms.