Research in Antarctica often means being in the field for long periods of time to collect important data to answer questions. But because of weather conditions and to protect people and materials, scientists use field camps, some temporary and some permanent. One such permanent field station, which had been operated by the National Ocean and Atmosphere Administration NOAA for more than 25 years, has now been given a complete makeover with the help of architecture students.
Thanks to a University of Colorado Denver program and collaboration with Bespoke Project Solutions and OZ Architecture, several students were able to apply their previously only theoretical knowledge to the development of a scientific field station. The result of the five-month effort is two brand-new buildings built according to the latest thinking in environmental sustainability and energy efficiency. Leo Borasio, one of the students involved, explains, “Even though Antarctica can seem intimidating, when you understand the requirements involved, everyone was excited to see how you could build something for this environment.”
The approximately $1.4 million project was important to NOAA. This was because the old buildings of the original station had been badly damaged by the conditions of the Antarctic weather. They also no longer met the latest environmental requirements of the Antarctic Treaty. In several meetings, NOAA researchers were able to contribute their experiences and wishes regarding the new station. In addition to many practical aspects that would make it easier for the researchers to work in Antarctica, however, a bright design, resistant but sustainable materials, and maximum energy efficiency were also incorporated into the project. For example, hardly any paint was used for a coat of paint, and the drinking water harvesting system (which runs on rainwater) also acts as a weight to anchor the station to the ground. The result of the students’ and experts’ work is two buildings, a lounge/work/cooking building and a residential building for a total of 8 people, which meet the high standards of the Antarctic environment and NOAA and environmental regulations. Electricity is provided by a solar array installed on the roofs, the exterior walls are stainless steel, and the walls, floors and ceilings are extra thick and filled with environmentally sound insulation. “We looked for sustainable alternatives that are easy to maintain and repair when needed,” Leo Borasio explains. Overall, the new buildings deliver not only more comfort, but even more space.
The next challenge for the project was to get all the material (about 3 40-foot containers full) to the destination point, Livingston Island, one of the South Shetland Islands near the Antarctic Peninsula. Here on the northern Ioannis Paulus II Peninsula, southeast of Cape Shirreff, is the location of the station, free of glaciers but at the mercy of the weather conditions of the Drake Passage. Because the coastal area there is very shallow and there are few suitable cargo ships for the region anyway, the tour operator and maritime specialist EYOS Expeditions and Nansen Polar Expeditions stepped into the breach and transported the material on board the expedition ship Nansen Explorer close to the landing site. The ship had to stay about one nautical miles offshore because the area is full of treacherous rocks and inadequately charted. From the ship, the building materials and people were brought ashore by Zodiacs, a formidable logistical challenge. “To give a small idea of the magnitude of the project, imagine that within seven hours we had transported 40 Zodiac loads of materials, equipment, food and personnel from the ship to shore,” writes EYOS. The effort makes the new station NOAA’s largest project ever undertaken in Antarctica. And the effort does not end with the construction of the two buildings. That’s because laboratory buildings and an emergency building are still on the schedule. And these will likely be developed and built by the next group of highly motivated students.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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