20 May, 2020 ,

The completion marks the latest milestone for the £140m UK Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme commissioned by UKRI-NERC and undertaken by the British Antarctic Survey.

Surrounded by spectacular scenery, dominated by mountains and glaciers, construction has completed on a new £11million wharf, dolphin and slipway to serve the King Edward Point Research Station (KEP).

The new wharf was commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI). The sub-Antarctic research station is owned by the GSGSSI and operated on their behalf by British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

The RRS James Clark Ross and MV Pharos SG coming into the new wharf. Credit: Fran Pothecary

The structure was completed on time for Shackleton Day, a special bank holiday in South Georgia.  The commemoration marks explorer Ernest Shackleton’s historic 1300km journey in an open-top boat across the Southern Ocean from Antarctica to South Georgia.

Over two years of meticulous planning meant the wharf was completed in just 108 days – three weeks ahead of schedule. This is a remarkable achievement, as constructing on this sub-Antarctic island means that every nut and bolt had to be sent in a single shipment from the UK.  The nearest builders’ merchant is thousands of miles away.

The new wharf represents an essential upgrade to the station’s infrastructure.  It enhances both safety and efficiency of ship operations for the new polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough and the GSGSSI fisheries patrol vessel, the MV Pharos SG. The expanded capability will ensure that BAS and GSGSSI are able to continue their world-leading interdisciplinary research and monitoring, vital to the sustainable management of this globally important wildlife haven.

RRS James Clark Ross cargo tender using the new wharf at King Edward Point Research Station. Credit: Fran Pothecary

Protecting the environment was a key consideration at every stage of the planning and construction process. To minimise the footprint on the seabed, the new wharf was designed as an extension to the pre-existing wharf.  A new retaining wall wraps around the former structure. The new mooring platform enables much larger vessels to dock and brings resilience against sudden weather changes. The refined layout maintains safe berthing and mooring operations for vessels up to 130 metres in length. Slipway upgrades facilitate the launching of small boats in a wide variety of tidal conditions.

As Technical Advisor to BAS, Ramboll provided the initial concept design and was onsite to supervise the construction, while BAM developed the detailed designs and constructed the new facility. Turner & Townsend also provided cost management for the project.

To limit weather delay, the team developed innovative solutions such as a bespoke conveyor to backfill the new mooring platform from the shore. The construction also necessitated the close collaboration of a wide range of experts, including a specialist dive team from Marine Civil Solutions; they inspected the seabed, removed obstructions and placed precast concrete slabs and burning sheet piles underwater.

MV Pharos SG alongside the new wharf at King Edward Point Research Station in South Georgia
MV Pharos SG alongside the new wharf at King Edward Point Research Station in South Georgia

Joe Corner, Project Manager at British Antarctic Survey said: “I am really proud to be involved in managing this project, and of everyone in the team who worked so hard to create this facility.  With just a single summer season to complete the full works under challenging environmental conditions, meticulous planning and execution was required; the breeding cycle of native wildlife restricted the start date to January. With support from the UK, Holland and the Falklands Islands, the team developed detailed environmental management plans and applied innovative solutions to the challenges faced.”

Alan Roper, Site Supervisor at Ramboll said: “Like most remote projects, this unique setting brings extremes in the way of engineering challenges. Working collaboratively with the Government of South Georgia, project team and the research station’s science and operation staff, we were able to deliver the project successfully, minimising disruption to local wildlife and the everyday operations at the station.”

Daan Aldenberg, Project Manager at BAM said: “The KEP project has been a true collaboration between the Employer, GSGSSI, scientists, designers and the construction team.  I’d like to acknowledge my thanks to all involved, for the support and commitment they have provided, in working together to achieve the successful construction of this infrastructure.

Everyone should take great satisfaction in completing these works safely, ahead of programme and within budget, whilst ensuring there was no impact on the environment of this unique remote location.”

Helen Havercroft, CEO of the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands said: “Whilst I had complete trust in the onsite construction team, I had real concerns about the unpredictable weather and gusting winds that can suddenly sweep in. The safety of personnel on site was a constant worry.

”It is a credit to the skills and determination of the project management and construction teams that we are able to announce the completion of the wharf ahead of schedule.

The new wharf and slipway will be used to operate Government harbour patrol boats, rigid inflatable hull boats, scientific survey boats and workboats. As well as accommodating the RRS Sir David Attenborough, the wharf will be compatible with the GSGSSI fishery patrol vessel, MV Pharos SG, and Royal Navy ships HMS Protector and HMS Forth.

South Georgia was once ground zero of the whaling industry but now undertakes critical research at King Edward Point to support the precautionary and sustainable management of the marine environment.  This remote and largely untamed UK Overseas Territory administered by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands has an abundance of life and opportunity for a wide range of scientific endeavour.

The only way to travel to South Georgia is by ship making the wharf development part of the lifeblood of the site; transporting cargo and welcoming visitors and scientists, who call it their home for a short period.

Construction team and summer station team departing King Edward Point. Credit: Alan Roper

The project was joint funded between the partners: NERC £4million, FCO £4million (through the UK Government CSSF fund), GSGSSI £2.2million and BAS £0.8million.

The £140m Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation (AIM) Programme forms part of Government investment to transform the UK’s Antarctic infrastructure to ensure that its facilities continue to enable frontier research. Alongside ensuring the safe and efficient berthing of the new Polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, the programme aims to reduce operating costs, improve efficiency and keep the research stations meeting the needs of BAS personnel to facilitate world-leading research for the future. Find out more online: https://www.bas.ac.uk/project/kep-modernisation/