HMS Protector (Picture: MOD).
HMS Protector and the British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) vessel RRS Ernest Shackleton are assisting a team of 100 scientists who want to study a glacier the size of Great Britain.
Experts fear the melting Thwaites Glacier, which accounts for four per cent of the annual sea level rise each year, could eventually collapse and raise levels by more than two-and-a-half feet.
In preparation for a five-year programme of field activities and research, ice-strengthened HMS Protector crunched through nearly 300 miles of ice to help deliver equipment necessary for the undertaking.
Four large tracked vehicles, 14 snow mobiles, numerous sledges, a caboose to act as living quarters and fuel and food to last nearly 5,000 days have all been taken to the Stange Ice Shelf ahead of the scientists' arrival next year.
It took 72 hours for HMS Protector's crew, and colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey, to deliver the 300 tonnes of machinery and supplies.
The nearest British and American scientific research stations are more than 1,600 kilometres away from the research site.
Leading Engineering Technician Colin ‘Chappers’ Chapman was part of the team involved in the unloading. He said: “It was hard work yet extremely rewarding.
"Having the opportunity to play a small part in such a huge project is something that I will certainly look back on with pride later in my life.”
In between the offloading, the sailors and Royal Marines took a short break to play rugby- a match organised by HMS Protector’s physical training instructor, David Clayton-Charlesworth.
“How many people in their life will get the opportunity to play rugby in Antarctica? It is something that just had to be done and was enjoyed by all that took part and watched,” he said.
Joining in the long-range Antarctic mission have been BAS Twin Otter aircraft and an RAF Hercules, which dropped 70 tonnes of supplies to outlying UK research sites.
Commander Peter Higgins, HMS Protector, said: "“It’s been a privilege for HMS Protector to contribute to the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration and a thrill for the ship’s company to see first-hand how this globally significant research is being supported.”
BAS Director of Science, Professor David Vaughan, added: “Without the assistance of HMS Protector, we just couldn’t have delivered all the necessary cargo to this remote part of West Antarctica in time to begin this vital research programme, which will help us predict future global sea-level rise."
Having been away from its home port of Plymouth since September 2015, HMS Protector won’t return until May next year.
Her summers are spent in the Southern Hemisphere conducting research on the fringes of the frozen continent, and austral winters in milder waters off west and east Africa.