FEATURE | New Zealand to put up advanced research station in Antarctica

Rendering of the redeveloped Scott Base (Photo: Hugh Broughton Architects)
Rendering of the redeveloped Scott Base (Photo: Hugh Broughton Architects)

The New Zealand government, through the Antarctica New Zealand institute, is set to establish a new research station on Antarctica in January 2027, 70 years after the original station commenced operations in 1957 during Sir Edmund Hillary's expedition to the frozen continent.

The prefabricated facility will replace the existing Scott Base, New Zealand's only Antarctic research station, which sits on a low volcanic headland called Pram Point at the southern end of Ross Island. Construction of the new research station will begin at PrimePort Timaru in the middle of this year, allowing three and a half years to build, test, and commission before its journey south.

<em>Aerial view of the existing Scott Base (Photo: Hugh Broughton Architects)</em>
Aerial view of the existing Scott Base (Photo: Hugh Broughton Architects)

The project has a total cost of approximately NZ$344 million (US$214 million). Many of the current structures have now reached the end of their effective lives. As a result, in 2017, Antarctica NZ began a project to redevelop Scott Base and provide a facility to support science for the next 50 years.

Modular construction for ease of transport and installation

Swiss engineering company Gurit has been charged with the construction of the new Scott Base in cooperation with UK-based Hugh Broughton Architects (HBA). The facility will be of modular construction to allow for ease of transport and re-assembly at the site some 3,720 kilometres south of Christchurch. Durability features will ensure the station can withstand harsh conditions such as outside air temperatures of as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius and wind speeds of up to 140 knots.

<em>Photo: Hugh Broughton Architects</em>
Photo: Hugh Broughton Architects

The design comprises three inter-connected, aerodynamically shaped two-storey buildings of matching width, which step down the hillside. The three buildings will be offset from each other to minimise risk of snowdrift between and are connected with enclosed links so that the lower level of the upper building connects to the upper level of the lower building. All the buildings will be elevated above the ground to encourage wind to flow under, thereby minimising snow accumulation. The geometry of the buildings was tested using snow simulation flumes and wind tunnels to arrive at the optimum aerodynamic form.

The buildings will be constructed in New Zealand and then split into full-width four-bay blocks for shipping to Antarctica. On arrival, these blocks will be moved into position where they will be joined together prior to final fit-out works and on-site commissioning. HBA expects this process will reduce the overall construction time by up to two years compared to a more traditional containerised solution. Construction on-site will commence in 2023 and is scheduled for completion by 2028.

Dedicated transport assets

<em>Photo: Antarctica NZ</em>
Photo: Antarctica NZ

The specialist ship that will deliver the new Scott Base will be provided by Netherlands-based logistics companies BigLift Shipping and Mammoet. The selected vessel is an ice-strengthened, heavy module carrier specifically designed to operate in remote and inaccessible areas.

The 20,675-tonne,173-metre-long vessel will bypass the usual offload point at the US-operated McMurdo Station and sail directly to Pram Point. Antarctica NZ said this will be the first time that a ship of this size will moor at New Zealand's only Antarctic station.

Mammoet's self-propelled modular transporters (SPMTs) will move the new base onto the ship in Timaru and off again in Antarctica. The three interconnected buildings will be separated into eight modules, each weighing about 800 tonnes, sealed, and welded onto the vessel for the journey. Once on-site, the SPMTs will move the modules into their designated positions. Mammoet Global Segment Lead of Transport and Logistics Reinder de Haan says the installation method is as robust as possible, with the highest priority given to safety and operational redundancy.

De Haan added that the SPMTs have tremendous power yet can be manoeuvred with millimetre precision so that each section of the new station will be perfectly aligned when set down.

The first chartered vessel for the project, BigLift's Happy Delta, arrived in McMurdo Sound last month to deliver around 870,000 kilograms of cargo for the redevelopment. Infrastructure, machinery and equipment were offloaded at McMurdo Station with the support of the United States Antarctic Program and the New Zealand Defence Force. A comprehensive environmental monitoring programme is underway to ensure any impacts to the environment are minimised through the redevelopment.

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