Since Sir Edmund Hillary set up his hut on Ross Island in 1957, New Zealand’s Antarctic station Scott Base has grown steadily. Several times rebuilt and expanded, today there are 12 buildings on the small Pram Point on the island. However, many areas of infrastructure have come of age and no longer meet the environmental and safety standards enshrined in the Antarctic Treaty and New Zealand legislation. That’s why Antarctica New Zealand and the government in Christchurch are in the process of giving new Zealand’s only station a complete facelift.
Project manager Simon Shelton and architect and design manager Hugh Broughton presented the new station at a webinar organized by the New Zealand Antarctic Society. New Zealand’s largest and most ambitious project in Antarctica since the first expedition in 1957 is intended to meet both its own and the requirements of the Antarctic Treaty in terms of safety, environmental compatibility, sustainability and comfort. New Zealand, like many other states in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica, wants to continue and underline its presence and its claim to modern, safe and sustainable Antarctic research. To do this, the country needs an appropriate infrastructure, as Simon Shelton says in the webinar. “Over the past 20 years, changes have been made to the station as the demands of the scientific community change,” he explains. The five main demands of presence, environmental compatibility, safety, quality and credibility formulated for the new station also reflect these changes. In particular, environmental impact is very high-weighted, because New Zealand wants to maintain its credibility as an Antarctic Treaty member geared towards sustainability and environmental protection.
At present, the second generation station, which has been continuously expanded and adapted since 1976, consists of 12 buildings on an area of around 7,000 square kilometers. The whole station is located on a slope practically directly on the coast on volcanic rock. Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano, is on one side, the long frozen McMurdo sound and the end of the Ross Ice Shelf on the other. This geographical location and the climatic conditions caused by wind and snow made the design of the new station a real challenge, as Hugh Broughton explains. The amount of snow collected at the station, driven by the wind, is an obstacle. Time and again, bulldozers and workers have to laboriously remove the snow drifts from the buildings. This costs not only time, but also fuel and causes noise and carbon emissions. The new concept aims to massively reduce this. The new station will stand on stilts (except the hangar building) and with the small side facing the prevailing wind, so that the wind can blow away the snow under the buildings. Additionally, the building roofs are tilted and aerodynamically designed in such a way that the snow no longer accumulates so easily, explains Broughton.
The key factors that led to the final design of the station’s outer shape were not only the avoidance of snow accumulation, but also the reduction of fuel and CO 2 emissions due to energy and heating, accessibility during maintenance and repair work, sustainability of station operations, optimization during the winter season and comfort for the employees who live in the station for months. Many former station members and scientists were also interviewed and their opinions incorporated into the design, something Simon Shelton and Hugh Broughton are very proud of. Because both know that in the end the station only works for and with the people. For this purpose, new materials and techniques are to be used in the construction and also inside functionality and comfort should combine with safety.
The project is still in the planning phase and plans for the final budget are due to be presented next year. So far, Antarctica New Zealand has received almost €14 million from the state. Construction should start, if everything goes according to plan and despite COVID-19, at the 2022/23 season and will last a total of 7 years. Project manager Simon Shelton points out that the existing station will serve as a base and be dismantled over time, with materials to be reused if possible. The frame of the buildings should be a network of steel, with the outer materials ensuring that the low temperatures do not damage the steel. The project also aims to pre-fabricate many of the parts in New Zealand and then deliver them on site with the help of ice-strengthened cargo ships and icebreakers. The proximity of the station to McMurdo station and the airfield helps with the elaborate logistics for the construction. However, the final logistics plans for the construction are still being compiled.
Asked how the current COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the plans, Simon Shelton says there are financial budget constraints due to COVID-19. However, the current phase in which the project is in is secured and is making good progress. “Like everyone else, we are a little uncertain about the next 2 years with COVID,” says Shelton. “But in terms of this project, I think we are well placed, as a lot of the work will take place in New Zealand before we get started on site. This way we have enough time for all the preparations that have to be made.” Hugh Broughton also thinks that, at least on the design side, one can benefit from the current situation in order to improve the safety and health measures on the station in the event of infection. “We have some rooms with their own ventilation system, that can be isolated. The doors have electromagnetic holders, which they keep open for fire technology reasons. You don’t have to touch door handles like that,” he explains. “We are taking this situation as an opportunity to make some important considerations in this regard.” The comfort and living conditions for the people who will work at the station in the future will also be improved and the new station should be a real home. If compared to the first hut, which was built by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1957 and which will still stand after the reconstruction, you can see the way that New Zealand has traveled since then.
Source: Antarctic New Zealand / New Zealand Antarctic Society
To the project website: https://www.scottbaseredevelopment.govt.nz/projects
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