Future of world’s first research ship RRS Discovery secured

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The future of a famous ship which carried out expeditions crucial to modern climate science has been secured thanks to a £409,000 funding boost.

The RRS Discovery was the world’s first ship to be designed specifically for scientific research and carried out the first research in the Antarctic under renowned sailor and explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott – better known as Scott of the Antarctic.

Observations and research gathered on Scott’s first Antarctic expedition in 1901 continue to inform modern climate science.

Now the 120-year-old ship has been safeguarded from severe deterioration.

Discovery lab
University of Dundee scientist Dr Simon Cook in the ship’s lab (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The National Heritage Memorial Fund has donated £409,000 to the Dundee Heritage Trust, which operates Discovery Point museum where the ship is berthed, to carry out urgent repairs.

The trust commissioned specialist ship surveyors who estimated £1.3 million of work is needed for repairs and to prevent future damage.

The funding covers the first stage of this, including repairing timbers, upgrading stanchions to prevent rainwater leaking into the hull and recaulking to ensure the ship is watertight.

Dr Simon Cook, University of Dundee senior lecturer in environmental change, said both the data and samples collected by Scott’s expedition more than 100 years ago provide valuable long-term context for modern climate science.

He said the observations and mapping of sea ice from the Discovery – well before the advent of satellite imaging – combined with logs from other expeditions provide a record to compare with the current day.

Dr Cook said: “This gives us a window back for more than 100 years. That’s where the real value is from this, it just gives the long-term context.”

He said samples of cyanobacteria, known as blue-green algae, collected by the Discovery were analysed in recent years as concern builds over the possibility that the toxic substance could become more common in warmer waters.

“To have that long-term context is critical to actually understanding what on earth is going on in terms of the earth’s climate system,” he added.

RRS Discovery
The 120-year-old ship requires critical repairs (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“I think it is important for Dundee, for Scotland and for the UK more generally to have this boat in dock in the city I live in that’s been to the Antarctic.

“For a geoscientist, it’s like having a Hollywood movie star living in the same town as you.

“If it can be used to raise awareness of these sort of issues then that is really fantastic.”

Ali Gallatly, Dundee Heritage Trust operations manager, thanked the fund for the money, saying: “We could not do this without the funding. We’d be looking at the ship continuing down the wrong direction without it.

“This funding will allow the ship to be here for generations to come.”

He said the trust is fundraising for cash to complete the full repairs but the grant “gets us on the way and will make a massive difference”.

Mr Gallatly added: “We continue to seek support and funding from people throughout the world. The ship is unique – it’s the only one of its kind in the entire world specifically built for research in the polar regions and it’s important to preserve that.”

Further renovations are planned as part of the £12 million Discovery Point Transformed redevelopment project, which will remodel the visitor attraction, emphasising climate change and sustainability.

The initial repairs are expected to be carried out within 12 months and the ship will remain open to the public throughout.

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