The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is the United Kingdom's national Antarctic operation and has an active role in Antarctic affairs. BAS is part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and has over 400 staff. It operates five research stations, two ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica. BAS addresses key global and regional issues. This involves joint research projects with over 40 UK universities and more than 120 national and international collaborations.
Operation Tabarin was a small British expedition in 1943 to establish permanently-occupied bases in the Antarctic. It was a joint undertaking by the Admiralty and the Colonial Office. At the end of the war it was renamed the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS) and full control passed to the Colonial Office. At this time there were four stations, three occupied and one unoccupied. By the time FIDS was renamed British Antarctic Survey in 1962, 19 stations and three refuges had been established.
The Antarctic explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs was Director of BAS from 1958 to 1973.
Of these bases, only Rothera and Halley are manned throughout the year. The remaining bases are manned only during the Antarctic summer.
Both South Georgia bases are manned throughout the year.
The headquarters of the BAS are in the United Kingdom, in the university city of Cambridge, on Madingley Road. This facility provides offices, laboratories and workshops to support the scientific and logistic activities in the Antarctic.
BAS operates two ships in support of its Antarctic research program. Whilst both vessels have research and supply capabilities, the RRS James Clark Ross is primarily an oceanographic research ship, whilst the RRS Ernest Shackleton is primarily a logistics ship used for the resupply of scientific stations.
Both vessels depart from the United Kingdom in September or October of each year, and return to the United Kingdom in the following May or June. Both vessels undergo refit and drydock during the Antarctic winter, but are also used elsewhere during this period. The James Clark Ross often undertakes scientific research on behalf of other organisations in the Arctic, whilst Ernest Shackleton is chartered into commercial survey work.
The two civilian ships operated by the BAS are complemented by the capabilities of HMS Endurance, the Royal Navy's ice patrol vessel that operates in the same waters. The Endurance's two Lynx helicopters enable BAS staff to get to remote field sites that BAS aircraft cannot access.
BAS operates five aircraft in support of its research program in Antarctica. The aircraft used are all products of de Havilland Canada and comprise four Twin Otters and one Dash 7. During the Antarctic summer the aircraft are based at the Rothera base, which has a 900 metre gravel runway. During the Antarctic winter conditions preclude flying and the aircraft return to the United Kingdom.
The larger Dash 7 undertakes regular shuttle flights between either Port Stanley Airport on the Falkland Islands, or Punta Arenas in Chile, and Rothera. It also operates to and from the ice runway at the Sky Blu base. The smaller Twin Otters are equipped with skis for landing on snow and ice in remote areas, and operate out of the bases at Rothera, Fossil Bluff, Halley and Sky Blu.
In January 2008, a team of British Antarctic Survey scientists, led by Hugh Corr and David Vaughan, reported that 2,200 years ago a volcano erupted under Antarcticas ice sheet (based on airborne survey with radar images). The biggest eruption in the last 10,000 years, the volcanic ash was found deposited on the ice surface under the Hudson Mountains, close to Pine Island Glacier.