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Sweco UK

Antarctic infrastructure modernisation milestones achieved

Construction teams have completed significant stages of the British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme and joined the over-wintering staff for the first time as the 2023/24 summer season ended. The improvements, led by BAM and technical advisors Ramboll will transform future science and operations at Rothera, the UK’s largest polar research station in Antarctica.

A major achievement of the season was resurfacing Rothera’s runway for the first time in over 30 years. Despite the challenges of extreme weather, the team completed the runway to tight timescales so that flights and air operations could continue to support BAS and scientists in the deep field. Ramboll designed the runway resurfacing, crucially using existing rock material as part of BAS efforts to modernise in the most sustainable way possible.

New, more efficient lighting, improved drainage and a turning pad for the aircraft have also been completed as part of this season’s busy programme of construction.

Image: BAM Nuttall

Work has also progressed on the Discovery Building, a new scientific support and operations facility due to be completed in 2025. Internally, the building with its 90m x 30m footprint is taking shape, with partitioning dividing the space into offices, a medical centre, plant room and storage areas. Externally, glass has been fitted to all windows and solar panels installed to contribute to the power of the whole of the station. All electrical and plumbing services are nearing completion and new energy-efficient heating systems have been installed in four other buildings.

Image: BAM Nuttall

Elen Jones, Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme Director, BAS, said: “At the end of a long, productive and challenging season, these strides forward would not have been possible without our incredibly collaborative team. We have progressed to such an extent that we’re looking forward to completing next season’s work which will see the Discovery Building being handed over and brought into operational use”.

For the first time, project team members are working to progress the Discovery Building through the Antarctic winter, known as overwintering. They join the station’s team of existing winterers who keep the station running each year, working in extreme conditions and 24-hour periods in darkness. The winter modernisation team is focussing on the internal fit-out of the Discovery Building, including the operations tower. Joiners and electricians are busy installing doors, sills, skirting, cabling and lighting control panels in time for the start of the new Antarctic summer season in November.

“Thank you to everyone involved for their commitment this season and to all our winterers who make a huge contribution in an extraordinary environment,” Elen continued.

Huw Jones, Executive Director, BAM, said: “Upgrading the runway to ensure access to Antarctica for the international science community in one of the world’s harshest and most remote locations is an incredibly complex operation. Our success this season is a result of the collective effort of our team, partners, and suppliers.  We’re proud to be part of a project that aligns perfectly with our own values of building a sustainable tomorrow and that will enable important climate research to continue in the region.”

Natalie Wathen, Framework Manager at Ramboll, said: “It is incredible what the team has achieved this season, it has once again all been down the collaboration across our partnership. Working to deliver a more sustainable and long-lasting future for Rothera has been extremely rewarding for us all”