British scientific research in the Antarctic is one of our best strategic advantages in the region. We must defend itby Klaus Dodds / October 26, 2012 / Leave a comment
Anyone listening to the House of Lords debate last week on “Antarctica: Centenary of Scott Expedition” was in for an unexpected treat. Rather than offering up a succession of rousing assessments of Captain Scott’s exploits, it offered a tantalising insight into something that has caused considerable excitement: the proposed merger of British Antarctic Survey (BAS) with the National Oceanography Centre (NOC). For the critics, not only was the merger evidence of the world-class BAS “brand” being dropped but also indicative of polar science funding being degraded. Antarctica continues to warm, the ice sheet continues to melt and the polar oceans are increasingly exploited. Was this not the time to increase funding to BAS and strengthen its scientific resolve rather than merge and/or submerge?
The National Environment Research Council (NERC) attempted to make the case for a merger. No business case was offered. Rather it seemed that the motive was primarily cost-cutting, on the basis of promising research and logistical benefits. The source of the dispute over the future of BAS is not, I believe, about cutting costs per se. Rather it is rooted in an institutional unhappiness that the BAS has enjoyed a special status within the research community. Its funding has been ring-fenced (protected therefore from other demands on the scientific purse) and, since 1982, it has been increasingly recognised as performing a special role.