Construction start of new Russian Vostok station in Antarctica | Polarjournal
The foundations on which the new station will stand will be high enough so that the buildings will no longer vanish in the snow. A total of five building modules will stand on the supports. Image: AARI

Russia is one of the countries that had conducted research in Antarctica since the beginning of the 19th century. Most of the research stations were built during the Soviet era, including the Vostok station in the middle of Dome A. But the station has become so outdated that the Russian government decided to build a new one. The construction of the new “Vostok” station has properly begun with the installation of the foundations.

According to the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute AARI, the first foundations have already been placed on a prepared area. These foundations consist of a large base, on which are then erected three-metre high struts. The total of five building modules are then erected on these supports. The struts are intended to prevent the new “Vostok” station from suffering the same fate as the old one, namely sinking into the snow.

The new location of the station is an area of 200 by 120 metres prepared over the course of three seasons. Here, the snow had to be compacted to such an extent that the surface could withstand the weight of the station and it would not sink. Image: AARI

Extensive preparatory work was necessary before the erection of the struts could even begin. For example, over the past two summer seasons, the underground, which consists of ice and snow, was compacted over an area of 200 by 120 metres to such an extent that it can withstand five times the station’s pressure. This required compacting the underground layer by layer to a total depth of three metres. In addition, the surface was levelled so that now there is a maximum height difference of 10 centimetres. This can be compensated by the struts.

In order for the construction material to reach the site near the old “Vostok” station at all, it first had to be transported to Antarctica on board two container ships. A tanker and the heavy conventional icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov completed the convoy. The convoy’s destination was the Russian station “Progress” on the coast of East Antarctica. There it was loaded onto sledges, which were pulled by heavy caterpillar vehicles along a 1,460-kilometre track to the “Vostok” station. Several fuel depots had to be set up along the way so that the vehicles could cover the distance. However, since not all material can be transported at once, several trips were and are yet necessary. So far, there have been five of these with around 900 tons of material, and two more for around 300 tons of material are still planned.

The station is located near the old Vostok station (in the background), which after more than 60 years of operation has sunk deep into the snow on the one hand and on the other hand does not meet the requirements of a modern station. Image: Screenshot Russian Geographical Society

Russia’s goal is to have the foundations and supports completed this season and then begin building the modules next season. These will consist of two working and two living modules plus an operating module with diesel generator, electricity system and water treatment plant. In addition, there is a garage and a building with a backup generator. A total of 140 metres long and 13.5 metres wide, 17.5 metres high and walls up to 80 centimetres thick are the technical dimensions of the new station. It offers space for a maximum of 35 people.

The world’s only nuclear-powered container ship, the ice-strengthened “Sevmorput,” was supposed to have delivered the construction material to Antarctica last year. But the voyage was ill-fated and the loss of two propeller blades off Angola ended the transport. Image: Rosatom

It had actually been planned to be able to start building the modules as early as this season. But technical difficulties of the nuclear transporter Sevmorput in December 2020 prevented a successful delivery of the material to Antarctica. It was not until this season that it was possible to bring the necessary materials and personnel to Antarctica, notably without the aid of the world’s only nuclear-powered container ship.

Russia is not the only nation currently upgrading and heavily modernizing its stations. New Zealand, the UK and the US are also implementing their modernisation plans for some Antarctic stations. This is because many of them no longer meet the environmental and safety standards set by the nations themselves.

The video of the Russian Geographical Society shows the logistic effort for the construction of the station.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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