Last week, the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) was officially launched at Trinity House in London. The expedition is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, which aims “to enhance international relations and collaboration between countries, as well as to spark the interest of a new generation of young scientists and explorers in polar research”.
The entire cruise will take place aboard the Akademik Treshnikov, a Russian research vessel chartered by the expedition organisers. The Tresnikov is due to set sail from Cape Town on 20 December. From there, it will head to the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands, marking the beginning of its circumnavigation of Antarctica. The expedition will return to Cape Town on 19 March.
Scientific teams have been drawn from across the world, with more than thirty countries represented. The United Kingdom’s participation is significant. David Walton, an Emeritus Professor at the British Antarctic Survey is coordinating all of the science. BAS scientists are also leading two projects (to evaluate carbon storage capacity in seabed organisms, and to examine ice cores taken from sub-Antarctic islands). Other projects are being led by scientists from the University of St Andrews and Northumbria University. In all, eighteen UK research institutes and other organisations are involved in at least one of the expedition’s twenty-two projects.
The significance of the expedition should not be in any doubt. As Professor Walton put it during the launch, “many scientific expeditions have investigated regions of the Southern Ocean over the past 100 years, providing partial insights into its functioning and importance. In ACE, for the first time, we will get a picture of the whole ocean in summer as well as of the roles played by the many islands in ecosystem growth and evolution”.
The launching of the ACE was part of a big week for UK polar science. Prior to the launch in London, the UK polar community was celebrating the laying of the keel for the RRS Sir David Attenborough, a new state of the art polar research ship being built by the Merseyside shipbuilders, Cammell Laird. The ship, costing c. £200million, which will take around two years to build, will help maintain the UK’s position in the vanguard of polar science from 2019 onwards.