Should the BAS merge with the NOC?


As of last week, plans have been announced for a merger between the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) of good ol’ Southampton.

From expedition involving the NOC and the BAS.

The intention is to create a single body for marine and polar science by 2020 (source: Reuters, 09/10/12); on paper, this is an inspired idea, considering that they are both prestigious scientific bodies. The NOC employs over 5,000 people in both Liverpool and Southampton, conducting extensive research in a broad number of areas within and on the borders of oceanography, being “one of the world’s leading institutions devoted to research, teaching and development in ocean and earth science.”

Similarly, the BAS is the UK’s top Polar Research Unit, and the country’s operation in Antarctica since 1962, consolidating its international reputation for excellence during the 1980s in discovering the hole in the ozone layer, bringing the world to attention over global warming.

Indeed, the academic world is largely pleased by the move. The National Environment Research Council is quoted as saying;

[The merger adresses] The need for a long term vision for translating ocean and polar science into timely, beneficial economic and social impact…addressing the challenges of increasing pressures on natural resources and rapid environmental change.

They are referring to the potential collaborative research in relating the future of Antarctica to the state of today’s oceans. Such findings could entail mapping past ocean circulation (which is significant in terms of the UK climate and may indicate how the ocean will respond to climate change) or even changes in regional and global carbon cycling (the rate of carbon dioxide absorption in the world’s oceans which affects ocean acidification rates).

However, the plans have become controversial due to the comments from the notorious environmentalist Al Gore, the director of the Inconvenient Truth (and, dare I say, a climate scientist’s headache);

In my view, the core elements of the BAS, integrated into a single unit with strong leadership, is of supreme importance, both as a UK national and international asset.

Al Gore
Former U.S. Vice President

What he suggests is that the BAS would be weakened by the move, for the organisation would have to share resources with another company, rather like how a child sharing a cake with another child will only get half the cake each, and so half the satisfaction.

Certainly there are two main arguments to pander to this argument. With the looming threat of Global Warming, a key researcher in the field needs more of its own resources, not fewer. Do we want to jeopardise the situation concerning Global Warming further? Do we not want to find a solution for the problem, before it is too late?

Well, to return to the children sharing, it is pure irrationality to apply twisted logic to such a situation. A child sharing does not mean less satisfaction, it just means less cake. Indeed, he might like to share. And so whatever you think about Global Warming, the quality of research would skyrocket as two groups have ‘cake’ and collaborate over the ‘cake’. As they say, two heads are better than one, especially with different specialisms.

So if I may finish up on a comment on Al Gore, of whom the National Environment Research Council “welcomed the former vice president’s input” (Daily Echo, 08/10/12). The response addresses my personal opinion. Although Al Gore was a (reasonably) good vice president and is well known in the U.S. and beyond, he did diversify with the film the Inconvenient Truth. Despite multiple inaccuracies (including the infamous CO2 level chart, where date was taken from a recently activated volcano in Hawaii), he is still a credible environmentalist, and opened up the debate for ordinary people to develop an opinion on the bonkers world of Climate Science.

Yet where politics treads, misinterpretation and exaggeration stalks, which are Science’s worst nightmares. Everyone, for instance, must be careful of what they read in a newspaper – it isn’t peer reviewed. Al Gore is the same – he is a man of politics, of showmanship, not so much science. Watching the film, one can’t help but remember that all those already convinced by Global Warming will ignore these recent comments as the merger would produce research to help stop it. Those who are not convinced, simply do not care.


I come from the land of cheese and cider, and like Bilbo Baggins I left the Shire to seek adventure. Let's hope I can outsmart Gollum.

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