New Vostok station goes on a test run | Polarjournal
Vostok station will not be fully operational until 2025, but the buildings will already be home to the first overwinterers in the coming austral winter. (Photo: Alexander Kozlov)

The new wintering complex at Vostok Station in Antarctica was put into operation on January 28, 2024, but this is still a test run. The finalisation will take another two years before this polar station can finally enter into operation. In total, it is Russia’s tenth station in the Antarctic, of which five operate year-round and five seasonally. However, Vostok station is the only one out of the ten that is located inland and not on the coast.

In the future, Vostok is likely to be one of the most modern research stations in the Antarctic. It can comfortably accommodate 15 employees in winter and up to 35 researchers and technicians in the summer season. The complex consists of five modules with a total area of more than 3,000 square meters, of which two are residential modules, two contain life-sustaining technical equipment and the fifth is a garage and workshop. The buildings have mineral wool insulation up to 95 centimeters thick and the façade consists of composite panels that can withstand extreme frost events.

Not easy to transport an entire station over 1,500 kilometers from the coast to the construction site in freezing temperatures.(Photo: Alexander Kozlov)

Complicated transportation and assembly

The parts for the complex were manufactured from Russian and Belarusian components in the city of Gatchina, south of St. Petersburg, where they were assembled and functionally tested in 2020 before being transported to Antarctica.

In October 2020, the station’s parts were shipped aboard the nuclear-powered freighter “Sevmorput”. However, the ship’s propeller broke down in the region off Angola and the ship had to return to St. Petersburg with its cargo.

One year later, in October 2021, the modules were loaded onto the motor vessel “Mys Dezhneva” and the motor vessel “Andrey Osipov”. The ships were accompanied on their journey to Antarctica by the diesel icebreaker “Kapitan Khlebnikov” and the tanker “Yaroslav Mudry”, which supplied fuel to support the onward voyages to the Vostok station and ensure the operation of all equipment.

The 133 modules, as well as the fuel and equipment, were unloaded near the Russian “Progress” station. From there, the parts were then transported to Vostok station by caterpillars. The module transfer and installation of the complex started in January 2022 and ended in January 2024.

The new complex replaces the outdated structures of the original Vostok station, which had been built in 1957 and was now 97% worn out. The new station allows researchers to carry out their work under more comfortable conditions. The buildings stand on 36 adjustable supports that adjust their height depending on the height of the snow layer. The station modules were built on top of this. All systems are secured two to three times to ensure a two-year self-sufficient supply of fuel and food.

History of the Vostok station

The original Vostok Station was established in 1957 during the second Soviet Antarctic expedition and is located on the ice dome of Antarctica, at an altitude of 3,500 meters above sea level and at a distance of about 1,500 kilometers from the coast. The station was managed for a long time by the polar explorer Vasily Sidorov and is the only Russian inland Antarctic station.

Directly below the station lies the subglacial Lake Vostok. Its existence was already suspected at the end of the 1950s, but was not confirmed until 1974 by a Scottish team. The existence of the lake was confirmed beyond doubt by a Russian-British team in 1996 by combining various data. In the coming years, Lake Vostok will be one of the scientists’ main targets.

In honor of the Antarctic expedition of 1819-1821, two Antarctic stations were named after the vessels “Vostok” and “Mirny”. (Image: Evgeniy Voishvillo, Paulsen Publishing House)

A station with a vessel’s name

The Antarctic station was named after the sailing sloop Vostok , which was one of the vessels of the Russian Antarctic expedition of 1819 – 1821. On July 16, 1819, the two sloops, Vostok and Mirny, commanded by Captain Faddey Faddeevich Bellingshausen and Lieutenant Mikhail Petrovich Lazarev, left Kronstadt on their way south. Thus began the Russian expedition in search of the southern continent.

The second ship of the 1819-1821 expedition, the sloop Mirny, gave its name to the Mirny Station, which opened in 1956 and is located on the coast of Queen Marie Land adjacent to the Davies Sea in the East Antarctic.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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