Dr Amelie Kirchgaessner
British Antarctic Survey
The impact of the Brexit vote is already being felt at the British Antarctic Survey as the pound falls in value, says Dr Amelie Kirchgaessner, and future projects could be jeopardised as working with the UK becomes less attractive.
Atmospheric scientist Dr Amelie Kirchgaessner has worked for the British Antarctic Survey for more than ten years and is an EU migrant.
She is interested in the interactions of atmosphere, ocean and ice in both polar regions. Her current work focuses on getting a better understanding of clouds in Antarctica through ground-based and airborne measurements. Mainly due to a lack of observational data, clouds are one of the main sources of uncertainty in the current generation of climate models.
Amelie says: “Antarctica, more than anywhere else, is a place where science, exploration of the unknown, and stewardship and protection of the natural environment depend on international cooperation and collaboration. While this will not change with Brexit, it is an example close to my work and my heart of how the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.”
As an organisation BAS is, and has been, involved in several EU funded projects, which over time have contributed substantially to its external science funding, says Amelie.
“While the UK is promising to continue funding current projects and those granted before the UK leaves the EU, it cannot provide this funding stream on its own, nor will such funding be easily generated through additional collaborations outside the EU framework.
Brexit would mean future collaborations with partners from EU countries having to be established outside existing EU projects – and, for the collaborators, in addition to them. “What would be their incentive to do this, when there are enough other collaborators within an established framework?” she asks.
The fall in the value of the pound since the referendum is already having an impact, says Amelie. “A huge part of my group’s work is based on aircraft measurements. Aircraft fuel for any work outside the UK has gone up in price, currently by 10%.” This is already affecting one existing project, meaning fewer flying hours to take measurements than in the original proposal.
The drop in value of the pound has also made attending conferences more expensive, says Amelie, in turn creating fewer opportunities for face-to-face networking and conversations with current and potential future collaborators abroad.
Amelie says that being part of the public sector means BAS management passes on government statements, for example that the status of EU employees will not change until the UK actually leaves the EU.
“That is correct, but not very reassuring beyond, let’s say, a timeframe of about two years. Not getting a stronger statement of support from my employer makes me feel less valued.
“Due to the increased xenophobia in the general population, I personally don’t feel welcome in the UK any longer. This is emphasised by the government’s position. Instead of strongly condemning these tendencies, it seems to be silently endorsing them. If it wasn’t for personal circumstances, I would look to leave the UK, even though after so many years, here feels like home, here is home. I don’t have anywhere to ‘go back to’.”
Amelie is convinced that for the foreseeable future there will be no financial net gain from leaving the EU. “Compensating various sectors of the economy that currently receive subsidies from the EU will cost money and I anticipate cuts to the science budget. This may lead to redundancies, and in the current atmosphere I fear that EU employees like me will be disadvantaged,” she concludes.