CGI view of the completed Discovery Building

Construction work due to restart at British Antarctic Survey base


CGI view of the completed Discovery Building

The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP) is part of the UK government’s long-term investment programme to modernise its research facilities in the polar regions.

Its purpose is to provide the infrastructure necessary to support the UK’s climate, biodiversity and ocean research in Antarctica. The AIMP is led by the British Antarctic Survey, Bam, Ramboll, Sweco with their extended supply chains.

After last season’s successful completion of the external skeleton for the new Discovery Building, this season is expected to be the busiest and most challenging since the programme began in 2017.

Major works this season include making the new 4,500 square-metre Science and Operations building weather-resistant and carrying out airfield improvements.

Arriving ahead of the main construction team, Bam has already started to clear several hundred thousand tonnes of snow that accumulated over the Antarctic winter in preparation for construction work to start. The other members of the team will arrive in December following a three-and-a-half-week journey to Antarctica onboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

To ensure the Discovery Building’s thermal performance, the team will begin insulating and cladding, with internal works also getting underway on the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing installations. The building’s science balcony and control tower will also be installed.

The team will also begin restoring Rothera’s 32-year-old runway to its original length to provide more room for the BAS’ new Bombardier/DeHavilland Dash-8 aircraft to manoeuvre. The runway camber will be restored to enhance surface drainage and remove minor potholing and new energy-efficient runway lighting will be installed, maintaining safe flying operations into Rothera, a critical access point for field science operations.

David Seaton, head of construction at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “This is the start of the most important construction season yet for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme as we upgrade our facilities in Antarctica to enable the continuation of science delivery and support in this most vital region.

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“The pre-deployment training and all other preparation have gone extremely well. The team is motivated and up for the challenge and we look forward to a successful season by the end of which we will have a fully weathertight Discovery Building, keeping us on track for the handover of this wonderful new science and operations support asset in 2025.”

Bam’s site agent for AIMP, Robert Kerr, commented: “The first boots are on the ground and the beginning of a new construction season is off to a great start. So much emphasis is placed on the delivery of work at Rothera that it is easy to overlook the enormous amount of planning and preparation work required by all partners. It is great to see all this hard work paying off.

“The construction team of 55 this year consists of approximately 35-40 returners, [who] will be key in delivering a very challenging programme of work. Among many objectives for the season, cladding the building will be a defining point in the programme, allowing us to transition from external works to internal works.

Bam has arrived early in order to clear snow ready for the work to begin
Bam has arrived early in order to clear snow ready for the work to begin

“The snow-clearing and site establishment works are progressing well and we all look forward to delivering another successful season at Rothera,” added Kerr.

Ramboll’s project director and framework manager for AIMP, Bruce Wulff, said: “The coming construction season looks set to be our most complex and ambitious yet. A huge amount of work from all the partners has gone into planning for the Discovery Building and the runway upgrade works. 

“Teams are now on site and starting to clear the snow to allow for this season’s planned activities: cladding the building, constructing the runway control tower, starting internal works, replacing the runway lighting, and digging trenches across the runway for new duct routes. We wish the team on site every luck as they prepare for this exciting season ahead.”

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