George Osborne orders new icebreaker for UK polar science

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UK science is to get one of the biggest, most capable polar research vessels in the world.

The £200m investment in an icebreaker was announced by Chancellor George Osborne in a speech in Cambridge.

The ship is likely to be 130m long and sport a helipad, cranes, onboard labs, and have the ability to deploy subs and other ocean survey and sampling gear.

It should be ready to enter service in 2019, and will support scientists in both the Antarctic and the Arctic.

The strength of its hull will allow it to push deeper into pack ice than any previous British research vessel.

Initial technical specifications require the ship to be able to maintain a speed of three knots while breaking through 2m-thick floes.

The money to build and equip the vessel is coming from the government's capital investment fund for science, for which Mr Osborne has committed over £7bn between now and 2020-21.

Addressing an audience at the world-famous Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, the chancellor said science was at the core of rebalancing the UK economy: "I get that this is something that Britain is brilliant at, and that it's vitally important to our economic future. So I've made it my personal priority in government to support [scientists in their] endeavour."

Mr Osborne added that there would now be a consultation on how best to spend the £7bn science infrastructure monies.

The UK already operates two polar ships – the Royal Research Ship (RRS) James Clark Ross and the RRS Ernest Shackleton.

The former was built in 1990 and the latter in 1995.

A case was made to government, and accepted, that this fleet needed to be augmented with a more modern capability if the nation's science at high latitudes was to remain competitive.

An early design concept for the new ship has been drawn up by naval architects, but this will need to be finessed.

A clear imperative is that the final design features a helideck – something omitted on the Clark Ross and which experts have told the BBC is really essential for effective Antarctic operations.

Precisely where the ship will be built is an open question.

Given the scale of the investment, a home shipyard would obviously be preferred. But European Union rules will require that bids also be invited from beyond the UK.

Written By: Jonathan Amos
continue to source article at bbc.com

12 COMMENTS

  1. Well, who would have thought it! Boy George spending our dosh wisely.

    I dare say that one of his illustrious predecessors will frown upon this expenditure, and harrumph about it being a frivolous indulgence, a preposterous waste of money.

    But then, Nigel Lawson’s attitude towards Global warming is in itself preposterous.

  2. Ok, what’s the catch? Is he going to declare that this ship represents the total UK investment in science until 2030 or something? Not that I’m cynical about my government you understand…

    • In reply to #2 by paulmcuk:

      Ok, what’s the catch? Is he going to declare that this ship represents the total UK investment in science until 2030 or something? Not that I’m cynical about my government you understand…

      Good point; I hadn’t thought of that angle.

    • In reply to #4 by TrickyDicky:

      The way things are going it will not be needed at the north pole in a few years time.

      I don’t think that’s quite how they see it just yet!

      http://www.thebristolbaytimes.com/article/1337russian-tanker-reports-ice-collision-in

      A fully-loaded tanker carrying diesel fuel struck an ice floe and started taking on water last week while traveling the Northern Sea Route.

      The 453-foot Russian-flagged tanker Nordvik is rated to travel in non-Arctic seas in thin ice, but collided with an ice floe in Matisen Straight, causing a hole that resulted in water ingress. The Northern Sea Route Administration had given the vessel permission to sail in the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea, two of the most northern seas. There are as yet no reports of diesel fuel spills in the area, and the vessel was reportedly traveling toward Murmansk.

      A graphic of sea ice concentrations shows ice in that region, though the majority of the passage is shown to be ice-free.

      A Russian union spokesperson said the accident is an example of the need for more emergency response capacity in the region prior to allowing vessels to travel in the Arctic seas.

      “Yesterday’s accident was a direct threat to the lives of sailors and the ecology of the Arctic,” Aleksander Bodnya says to the union’s web site. “Vessels like that should not be sailing on NSR, simply because they are not capable of withstanding the ice conditions.”

      Alaska’s state officials responded with similar concern, saying the incident illustrates why Alaska and the United States need to continue to push an Arctic marine safety and life safety agenda.

      “We have an Arctic Council agreement signed this year to help each other in cleanup, but need more work in prevention,” said Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, one of the state officials who has been leading Arctic policy efforts, in an email.

      Treadwell said one of the proposals from the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment includes a mandatory code defining what kind of ships can make these voyages.

      “Russia and other nation’s crude oil and product tankers now come through the Bering Strait, through waters that are a major food source for Alaskans and the world,” Treadwell said. “They should have contingency plans and the support of an oil spill response organization in case of a problem. That is not cheap, but we have to find a way to make it happen.”

      In 2012, 46 ships sailed the entire length from Europe to East Asia. In 2013, administrators of the Northern Sea Route had granted permission for more than 400 ships to sail.

      Then there was this incident:-
      http://barentsobserver.com/en/sections/articles/arctic-oil-tankers-collided

  3. With the arctic militarisation policy being embarked on by Putin in recent years it is critical that the UK develop a potent ice breaker to enable it to contribute toward a united Western strategy to counter Putin’s.

  4. *Sir Paul Nurse ( president of the Royal Society) : “we still look at the US, at Germany and South Korea, who are all investing more,..I’m hoping we’ll be able to persuade the chancellor, to increase the investment so we can really compete with those countries.” *

    This is from the UK’s ” government’s capital investment fund for science”. There is something called “opportunity cost”. From this article one is completely clueless why

    (a) any country/group of countries/ the world should invest in this particular “science” project , as opposed to competing projects (curing malaria/Alzheimer’s, developing new sources of energy, exploring Mars or outer space, funding CERN, developing drones, invest in combatting global warming, even support to “the world-famous Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge” , whatever)

    ( b) a particular country (UK) would want to “compete” with others in this particular “race”. To win what prize? To benefit whom?

    • In reply to #6 by catphil:

      ( b) a particular country (UK) would want to “compete” with others in this particular “race”. To win what prize?

      With this lot, it is probably mining, oil drilling, or gas drilling in the Arctic or around the Falkland Islands. – Or opening up sea-routes through the Arctic Ocean!

      To benefit whom?

      The old-boy network of fat-cat directors and executives of the companies profiting from these activities, could be a good guess! (A political sponsor is a political sponsor – Hence the funding for the campaigns of climate change denier MPs!)

      • In reply to #7 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #6 by catphil:

        “To win what prize?.With this lot, it is probably mining, oil drilling, or gas drilling in the Arctic or around the Falkland Islands…! To benefit whom? The old-boy network of fat-cat directors and executives of the companies profiting from these activities”

        I also envisaged this motivation as a possible reason, but, perhaps naively, thought that this was the result of higher “scientific” considerations. If you are right, the implications are rather depressing. For instance, (a) the UK scientific community (including the President of the Royal Society, of which RD is a member) determines scientific priorities in the light of these considerations and (b) no political party, NGO, University Department, newspaper, etc…is able or willing to challenge this priority, exposing the decision making process based on this alleged motivation , and offering alternative priorities.

        • In reply to #8 by catphil:

          In reply to #7 by Alan4discussion:

          I also envisaged this motivation as a possible reason, but, perhaps naively, thought that this was the result of higher “scientific” considerations.

          Argentina ‘will seek to punish’ firms that drill for Falklands oil – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/12/argentina-falklands-oil-international-courts

          This is a Tory government.

          Some of us can remember that Maggie Thatcher triggered the Falklands War by announcing the decision to scrap the Royal Navy’s last Antarctic research patrol ship and selling off an aircraft carrier as a cost-cutting exercise, thus leaving the islands undefended, – incurring the vast cost of the war!! (A bit like David Cameron’s recent “cost-cutting” deferral of environmental studies and work on flood defences!)
          The Argentinians foolishly jumped the gun with an invasion while the ships were still available, but it was still a matter of luck on strategy who “won”. (Many soldiers lost!)

        • In reply to #8 by catphil:

          I also envisaged this motivation as a possible reason, but, perhaps naively, thought that this was the result of higher “scientific” considerations. If you are right, the implications are rather depressing. For instance, (a) the UK scientific community (including the President of the Royal Society, of which RD is a member) determines scientific priorities in the light of these considerations and (b) no political party, NGO, University Department, newspaper, etc…is able or willing to challenge this priority, exposing the decision making process based on this alleged motivation , and offering alternative priorities.

          The military and politicians, have used scientific research as a cover for military and spying activities for decades (or centuries). Much of the hardware and in many of the space missions, the science was used as a cover for clandestine military activity. (Early launch vehicles were using nuclear missile technology. The large cargo bay on the space-shuttle was designed to accommodate large military satellites.) Likewise robot mini-submarines and communications equipment.

          The scientists are never-the-less, happy to get some equipment and budget for non-military research, or hand-me-down expensive equipment.

          • In reply to #11 by Alan4discussion:

            The military and politicians, have used scientific research as a cover for military and spying activities for decades (or centuries)

            Exactly. It’s one of the reasons I consider “free market worship” to be akin to a religious dogma in the US. The same people who never shut up about the wonder of the “free market” and how awful government is never see the hypocrisy in the fact that much of the US economy has been funded since WWII by the DOD and many of the leading technical innovations such as computers and associated technology was jump started by “defense” spending on R&D.

            One under reported fact is that for a few brief years under Clinton that changed just a bit. Clinton had something called the Technology Reinvestment Program and also the Information Superhighway initiative. Both of those were efforts to jump start the economy and for a few years it was possible to get a major government grant to do computer research and for once actually be honest that your goal was a technology that also had some awesome business and consumer applications as well as military. They even renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) back to its original name without the “D”, just the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).

            That didn’t last long though. ARPA was re-renamed DARPA and you had to justify every potential software improvement once again by claiming it would help build bigger and smarter weapons. It’s worth noting that the rise of the Internet happened right after the TRP and Info Superhighway efforts and that those efforts fueled a lot of technology that might have taken much longer to develop otherwise. The Internet boom turned into a bubble eventually but along the way there was massive growth in the economy and new more productive ways of doing business. It amazes me that people don’t point this out more and that there isn’t more of a push for at least just a few bread crumbs of funding directly targeted toward non-defense high tech areas as a way of getting the US economy going again. Of course the free market zealots in the US congress would call that communism. Or fascism. They get easily confused on little historical details like that but they would definitely call the idea names and not like it.

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