Here we go again…

14 March, 2023 Rothera

Christopher Robert Lloyd, Associate Project Manager at Ramboll is currently working at Rothera Research Station on the construction of the Discovery Building for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP). In this blog he talks about his past visits to Antarctica and how the construction team are meeting their milestones as the new facility takes shape.

This year is my third trip to Antarctica, working on the construction of the new 4,500m² science and operations facility, the Discovery Building, at Rothera Research Station. In previous years, along with many other scientists, construction partners, pilots, technicians and support staff, I had to undergo two weeks of COVID-19 quarantine in the UK before travelling almost 15,000km (over 9,300 miles) to the southern continent by ship.

RRS Sir David Attenborough Polar Research Ship in Antarctica
Not every arrival of the RSS Sir David Attenborough is on a clear sunny day! (Credit: Christopher Robert Lloyd, Ramboll)

I am travelling much later in the season now – March 2023. Science and construction teams have been at Rothera since the end of October 2022 and have endured the full summer cycle. This begins with clearing hundreds of tonnes of snow from the runway and wharf for aircraft and ships to arrive and depart safely.

After a crisp but sunny Christmas and New Year period (only around 0°C/32°F!), field scientists have been out onto the glaciers to set up sensors and perform surveys while the construction team has made great progress on cladding the new Discovery Building in its distinctive blue colour. As the austral winter approaches, the nights will be getting longer and the weather colder every day.

This journey was a far cry from my two previous ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. We can use regular airports again, so I’ll be travelling on a series of commercial flights down through South America with a final crossing of the infamous Drake’s Passage (the body of water that connects South America to Antarctica) from Chile to Antarctica on one of our specially-configured aircraft – a De Havilland Canada Dash-7.

Rothera as a research and transport hub

Rothera research station is not just a centre for British polar research, it serves as a key air hub for other Antarctic research organisations. Every year, a dozen or more aircraft with scientists from other nations pass through on their way to perform their own scientific studies.

A group of people wearing orange safety visibility clothing standing outside a green building
The 2021-2022 AIMP Construction Management Team – Leaders from Ramboll and BAM pictured. (Credit: Christopher Robert Lloyd, Ramboll)

The team have so far made good progress on the construction of the new Discovery Building, installing all the secondary steelwork, outer cladding and fireproof material, and will have already started on the internal fittings.

There is still a lot to do before the building is ready for use, however this season marks a major milestone. The drawings and 3D models we have worked on over the last few years turn into a full weathertight building. Whilst the Discovery Building takes shape in the snowy Antarctic landscape, my mind is on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) air facility – not just for my own flight there, but on the numerous air operations that are carried out by BAS throughout the year.

I am going to Rothera to oversee the finishing touches to the new energy efficient LED runway lighting system currently being installed. The runway is over 30 years old and is due to be improved. Next season, there are plans to resurface the runway (much like a road) to refresh it for another 30 years of use.

What’s in store

I’m looking forward to seeing old friends again, although many of the people I met on my first trip South have since moved on. Projects that would take months to complete back in the UK can take years in the harsh conditions of the Antarctic. We have a collaborative partnership of organisations – BAS, Ramboll, BAM, Sweco– that share similar values and a desire to work together to create a sustainable community in such a remote place.

So, my bags are packed, my devices charged and I’m looking forward to seeing the Antarctic wildlife, meeting the people and checking in on the construction progress. Or maybe they’ll just put me in the kitchen again…

A man preparing food in a kitchen
Chris getting involved in the community spirit of station life by helping in the kitchen. (Credit: Christopher Robert Lloyd, Ramboll)