14 MAR 2019


Plummeting to the bottom of an icy sea bed, divers have completed the final part of a wharf deconstruction on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) at Rothera Research Station.

Two months of deconstructing the old wharf came to an end over the weekend with the first frame of a new 74-metre long wharf being lowered into place.

It forms a significant part of the government’s largest investment in polar science since the 1980s and the wharf will become home to the £200m RRS Sir David Attenborough and provide safe berthing for the 129-metre long Polar Research Vessel.

The commissioning of the RRS Sir David Attenborough is part of a major polar infrastructure investment programme designed to keep Britain at the forefront of world-leading research in Antarctica and the Arctic.

Undertaken over 12 hours, teams installed the first 55-tonne frame for the wharf on Tuesday after it was lowered carefully into position onto temporary guides from a 300-tonne crane.

In total 20 frames will make up the wharf’s skeleton, with seven due for installation during this construction phase that is being delivered by BAS’s construction partner BAM and technical advisor Ramboll.

Ian Wenkenbach, Bam project engineer, said the operation brought together two years of planning together.

“The full-scale trial assembly and lift undertaken back in September in the UK ensured that the operation here in Antarctica went according to plan,” he added. “To install the frames, which form the skeleton of the new structure, we are using a hydraulic jacking system, a concept developed in-house to allow accurate levelling of the frames after installation, as well as specially designed lifting frames, support structures and access platforms.”

A 50-strong team from BAM, is spending two Antarctic summers dismantling the old 60m wharf and building the new 74m one. The latest milestone is a significant step forward in the £100m upgrade of the Rothera research station with the project due to be completed in April 2020.

Alan Roper, Ramboll site supervisor, added: “There is a great sense of achievement here in Rothera at this crucial milestone as the deconstruction of the existing wharf makes way for construction of the new wharf. Overseeing yesterday’s successful operation was a very proud moment for all of the BAM, BAS and Ramboll team.”

The facts and figures of RRS Attenborough:

  • Length: 129m
  • Scientific cargo volume of approximately 900m³
  • Endurance – up to 60 days 
  • Range 19,000nm at 13 knots (24 km/h) cruising speed; more than enough for a return trip from England to Rothera Research Station, or to circle the entire Antarctic continent twice
  • Ice breaking capability – up to 1m thick at 3 knots (5.6 km/h)
  • Bow and stern thrusters for excellent dynamic positioning in challenging conditions
  • Approximately 30 crew members
  • Accommodation for up to 60 scientists and support staff

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