The British Antarctic Survey is seeking to protect its Antarctica research facilities and staff against climate-change impacts. The agency has commissioned a European design-build team for a $125-million upgrade of one key site and stopped all approaching winter activities at another, which is being moved inland as new ice cracks are found.
For the project to upgrade the research facilities at its Rothera port site on the Antarctic peninsula, the agency chose U.K.-based units of Dutch contractor Royal BAM Group and Sweden-based engineer Sweco. The work will take between seven and 10 years and is expected to present “unique challenges, given the continent is the highest, driest, coldest and windiest on earth,” said the contractor. Commissioned by Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council, the modernization program represents a long-term U.K. partnership between the Antarctic research group and Royal BAM. In a joint statement, they said it would enable a “world-leading capability to ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of climate, biodiversity and ocean research in the polar regions.”
Agency spokesman Jonathan Fuhrmann said the current wharf upgrade will accommodate the new $250-million, state-of-the-art polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, now under construction in the U.K. He said it will likely head to Antarctica for the first time during the 2019-20 summer season.
As part of the base renovation, Royal BAM also will construct new buildings and upgrade its airport hangar and landing strip. Other firms involved in the upgrades to the Antarctic research-station facility are consultants Ramboll, Turner & Townsend and NORR. Royal BAM spokesman Peter Bishop says the firm and Sweco have worked together in remote locations in Scotland but never before in Antarctica. Construction will start during the 2017-18 summer season.
Meanwhile, the survey’s separate Halley VI research station, built for portability due to its ice-shelf location, will take the unusual step of vacating its winter staff from March to November as a precaution due to the discovery last October of a nearby ice crack, the agency announced. The station already is being moved 14 miles inland because of a previously discovered crack.
“Changes to the ice, particularly the growth of a new crack, presents a complex glaciological picture that means that survey scientists are unable to predict with certainty what will happen to the ice shelf during the forthcoming Antarctic winter,” said Fuhrmann.