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Tue September 17 2019

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Work begins on Antarctic wharf

6 Feb Construction is now under way in the Antarctic to build a wharf for the RRS Sir David Attenborough, with the construction team seeking to make the most of the long days.

Image of Rothera Wharf by David Seaton of BAS
Image of Rothera Wharf by David Seaton of BAS

BAS engineer and project manager David Seaton said: “Construction work in Antarctica is like nothing else, and it has taken a vast amount of planning, practising and preparation to get us this far. The next few weeks will be critical to the success of the project and we hope to make good progress whilst we have long hours of daylight and relatively favourable weather conditions, knowing that in a few months when winter approaches, things are likely to get a lot more difficult.”

A cargo ship arrived in late December with the 4,500t of supplies needed by contractor BAM and the rest of the team working on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) project (link opens in new tab).

The 74m-long wharf is being built at the Rothera Research Station. It will be operated by BAS to provide a berth for the new 129m-long polar research vessel. Supporting BAS is a technical advisor team, which is led by Ramboll and includes Turner & Townsend and Norr Architects, working alongside BAM.

The commissioning of the RRS Sir David Attenborough is part of a British government polar infrastructure investment programme. The £200m commitment includes modernisation across the BAS estate.

Preparations for the wharf construction have been under way for two years, culminating in the arrival of the cargo ship DS Wisconsin in late December 2018. The steel and equipment took 11 days and nights of round the clock work to unload. Deconstruction of the old wharf is now under way. Two 35t excavators, operated by BAM, broke through the surface of the old Biscoe wharf in January and two 90t long-reach machines are in place for the deep excavation and dismantling works.

BAM project manager Martha McGowan said: “We are really pleased to have begun this exciting and important work on the  wharf that will berth the world’s most famous research ship – the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

“Because of the practical restrictions of working in one of the most remote construction sites in the world, the construction team practised full-scale assembly of the 30-tonne steel rigs, that will form the skeleton of the new wharf, prior to leaving for Rothera. In doing this, we were able to identify unexpected challenges or additional pieces of equipment needed whilst still in the UK, rather than once everything had been shipped 11,000km to Rothera.”

Ramboll senior engineer Jenny Symons returned from Rothera this week, having spent 10 weeks supporting BAS and BAM during the construction so far. She said: “I have really loved being in Rothera, it’s a remarkable place. The team spirit is great, and it’s been a pleasure to be part of that and supporting BAS in the construction of the wharf.”

Construction of the new wharf is to take place over two Antarctic seasons and is due for completion in April 2020.

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