Our site is using cookies to record anonymous visitor statistics and enhance your user experience. OK |  Find out more

Skip navigation

History of BAS

The UK has been a leader in Antarctic science and exploration for more than 200 years. Britain’s interest in Antarctica began with Captain James Cook, who in the 1770s became the first person to sail around the continent. But the most famous British expeditions to the Antarctic took place during the so-called “heroic age” at the start of the 20th Century.

Primarily remembered for their extraordinary feats of courage and endurance, the expeditions of Scott and Shackleton had important scientific goals. During the southern winter before the fateful push for the pole, Scott’s expedition gathered large amounts of scientific data. Undoubtedly the most hard won were five emperor penguin eggs, which three men travelled for more than a month in the middle of the Antarctic winter to collect, in the hope they would shed light on the evolutionary links between reptiles and birds.

Britain’s scientific interest in the Antarctic continued during the 1920s and 30s when, funded by taxes from the whaling industry, the Falkland Islands Dependencies Government supported 13 so-called Discovery voyages. Among their successes were important advances in marine biology and major improvements in the charting of Antarctic waters.

Port Lockroy 1966

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is the UK’s national Antarctic operator, and has for the past 60 years been responsible for most of the UK’s
scientific research in Antarctica. BAS has its roots in Operation Tabarin, a secret World War II mission. Designed to deny Antarctic waters to enemy ships, Tabarin also had a scientific role, collecting data on Antarctic biology, geology and weather during the last two years of the war.

After the end of the war in 1945, Tabarin’s three bases and its scientific work were transferred to a new organisation – the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey, which in turn was renamed in 1962 as BAS.

Since then, BAS has become a world-leader in Antarctic research. Headquartered in Cambridge, BAS employs more than 400 staff amd is part of the Natural Environment Research Council. BAS operates five research stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica.