The vessel popularly known as Boaty McBoatface will make its debut on Saturday in Liverpool, where the hull will be launched into the River Mersey before shipbuilders get to work finishing the ship in wet basin.
RRS Sir David Attenborough – the boat was officially named after the naturalist after the internet poll’s top suggestion was rejected – will be used by the British Antarctic Survey for polar research from next year, when it is expected to be completed.
Under construction by Cammell Laird, it is the biggest civilian ship to be built in the UK for 30 years and represents the government’s biggest investment in polar science since the 1980s.
Members of the public are invited to watch the hull’s launch along the Mersey and the event will also be livestreamed online, with “splashdown” scheduled for 12.20.
Officially still known by the more functional name of Hull 1390, the 129-metre-long, 10,000-tonne hull will then be towed to Cammell Laird’s wet basin, where the rest of the ship will take shape.
When the ship is deployed in the Antarctic next year, it will form part of a £200m UK investment in polar science that is expected to yield important new insights into climate change, pollution, biodiversity, the ozone layer and myriad other environmental concerns. Polar science is one of the most important areas of environmental research, and the UK has been one of the leading nations involved since the days of Scott and Shackleton.
Attenborough, who will attend the event, said: “Britain began exploring the Antarctic over a century ago, when it seemed to be an empty wilderness of little importance to the world as a whole. Now we recognise that what happens at the poles is of the greatest importance to everyone, everywhere.”
The research ship gained notoriety in 2016 when the Natural Environment Research Council ran an internet poll to decide what its name should be. After a joke by radio host James Hand that it should be called Boaty McBoatface, thousands of people voted for that name in what rapidly became an internet sensation, until government minister Jo Johnson stepped in to say a more serious name was required. In a nod to the joke, however, a submersible that will be used in conjunction with the ship has been given the Boaty McBoatface moniker.
Attenborough is one of the most popular figures in the UK, held in affection by generations who grew up on his deeply personal films of wildlife and nature from around the world. Last year his work reached a bigger audience than ever when Blue Planet II, which recorded the devastation on ocean ecosystems caused by plastic pollution, became the year’s most watched TV programme.
In an interview with the Guardian, he recalled how at school his science teacher had told the class of the wonders of plastic being indestructible, and noted how across the arc of his lifetime it had come to be seen as a scourge.
Since Blue Planet II, public awareness of the plastic problem has forced a series of measures by governments – including a promise to phase out single-use plastic in the UK – and by companies, such as Starbucks’s recent commitment to a 5p cup charge and an end to plastic straws, and the installation of bottle recycling in some supermarkets.
Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation, said: “The work of Sir David has engaged millions of people across the planet with these issues and their impact. The research ship named in his honour will make a vital contribution to addressing them.”