HMS PROTECTOR helps Antarctic scientists


HMS Protector helps Antarctic scientists begin five-year mission to study sea levels | Royal Navy

Royal Navy survey ship HMS Protector smashed through nearly 300 miles of Antarctic ice to help scientists begin a five-year mission to understand how West Antarctica is contributing to global sea-level rise.

Working together with British Antarctic Survey’s vessel RRS Ernest Shackleton, the Plymouth-based ice-strengthened vessel crunched her way to a remote Antarctic ice shelf to support a team of around 100 scientists who seek to understand a glacier the size of Great Britain.

The gigantic Thwaites Glacier is melting – accounting for four per cent of the annual sea level rise every year. Scientists fear the huge mass of ice could eventually collapse, raising the global sea level 80 centimetres – more than two and a half feet – and so are beginning a five-year programme of field activities on the glacier.

With the nearest British and American scientific research stations more than 1,600 kilometres away from the research site, the two ships were called upon to deliver essential heavy stores to the ice edge in preparation for the arrival of the scientists next year.


HMS Protector returns to Devonport

The ship’s Commanding Officer, Captain Matthew Syrett said: “HMS Protector has a unique role in the Royal Navy and we are a very unusual warship. We are bright red and white for a start and we operate in Antarctica, promoting science and enabling conservation and making sure our British interests in Antarctica are preserved.

Our deployment has been awesome – we’ve visited New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina to name a few, and in 2016 we circumnavigated Antarctica for the first time.”

The sort of studies that Protector has been involved in this year with the British Antarctic Survey and their American counterparts has included the study of a glacier, the size of England. The glacier was found to be very fragile and is breaking up. The ship has provided 175 tons of fuel along with stores to support that project as scientists are concerned about the possibility of a 20cm sea level rise just from that one glacier if it melts. There are no concerns immediately but scientists are looking at the long-term changes in the Antarctic.

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