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
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