Polar apposite

March 8, 2012

David Willetts' recent trip to the Antarctic Peninsula deserves elaboration ("Journey into the unknown", 1 March). While the minister might have enjoyed glancing at an emperor penguin or two, his visit was rather significant, particularly when you consider the recent appointment of Duncan Wingham as head of the Natural Environment Research Council ("Old hand aims to guide Nerc ship to shore", 1 March). What connects the two is the British Antarctic Survey, the UK's main scientific organisation dedicated to polar research.

At a time of shrinking science budgets, it is worth recalling that the UK's strong presence in the Antarctic Treaty System rests largely on its reputation as one of the leading polar science players (along with the US, Germany and Australia). I hope that the minister's visit to the Rothera Research Station will have persuaded him that achieving excellence in the field requires investment. For all the recent furore about the Falklands Islands (including Prince William's deployment, Sean Penn's ruminations and Argentina's mounting diplomatic campaign), it remains a vital forward operating base for the BAS.

Science and politics are rarely divorced in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic, and any change to BAS' funding would have geopolitical consequences.

Klaus Dodds, Professor of geopolitics, Royal Holloway, University of London

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