Rothera Research Station Modernisation

Rothera Research Station Modernisation

Rothera Research Station is the UK Antarctic hub for frontier science. Over the next decade, Rothera Research Station will be upgraded to ensure its facilities keep the UK at the forefront of climate, biodiversity and ocean research. This comprehensive modernisation includes a new wharf for the RRS Sir David Attenborough and a new science and operations facility, the Discovery Building.

Rothera Research Station Modernisation is part of the long-term Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation (AIM) Programme and will transform how British Antarctic Survey enables and supports polar science.

Commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (UKRI-NERC), the modernisation programme represents the largest Government investment in polar science infrastructure since the 1980s.

Rothera Wharf

The first phase of Rothera Research Station Modernisation was to rebuild and extend Rothera Wharf to accommodate the new and larger polar ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Construction on the new £40m Rothera Wharf began in November 2018 and was completed by April 2020. A specialist team built the 74 metre wharf over 18 months through during the Antarctic summers (November to May).

The 50-strong team from construction partners and designers of the wharf, BAM, with the support of Sweco and technical advisors, Ramboll, completed the project. Turner & Townsend also provided cost management.

Rothera Wharf Benefits

  • Accommodate and moor the new polar ship for Great Britain, the RRS Sir David Attenborough.
  • Bigger, deeper and stronger than the previous wharf.
  • Launching small boats with a larger crane.
  • A personnel gangway and a floating pontoon for the deployment of scientific instruments.

Rothera Wharf Final Season (2019-2020)

The season started in November 2019 with the team clearing 2000 tonnes of snow as the site was not operational during the dark Antarctic Winter. The wharf’s remaining 14 out of 20 steel frames that form the wharf’s skeleton were put in place and backfilled with rock, securing the structure.

The first ships, including the RRS James Clark Ross, moored at the new wharf in April 2020.

Rothera Wharf First Season (2018-2019)

During the first season, the old Biscoe wharf was taken apart in January 2019. Temporary cargo unloading and boat launch facilities were set-up. The first steel frames of the new wharf were lowered into place.

Extreme Construction

Building a new wharf in one of the world’s most remote locations presented a number of challenges. Every nut and bolt needed to be accounted for and the 4,500 tonnes of equipment was shipped 11,000 km from the UK to Antarctica.

The construction team practiced full-scale assembly of the 45 tonne steel frames in Southampton to identify unexpected challenges or additional pieces of equipment needed whilst still in the UK.

Modernisation programme aims:

  1. Enable frontier science to satisfy the current and predictable future demand of research communities in the UK
  2. Maintain the UK Antarctic regional presence in the Southern Atlantic
  3. Invest now to constrain future running costs of Antarctic Logistics and Infrastructure
  4. Enable the new polar research ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, to operate at maximum efficiency


We will achieve these aims through:

Enhancing operational efficiency

  • rationalise site layout and use for optimal efficiency
  • upgrade our facilities and technologies so that the research station is energy efficient and sustainable into the future
  • enable efficient station relief and cargo operations  with faster turnaround times, to allow both the station and the ship to maximise the time spent undertaking research and supporting UK polar science and logistics as effectively and efficiently as possible

Reducing waste and enhancing biosecurity

  • improved waste management facilities to help us reduce and recycle effectively
  • enhanced management of environmental biosecurity facilities to comply with the Antarctic Treaty environmental protocols effectively

Improving ship and boating operations

  • rebuilding the wharf to accommodate the RRS Sir David Attenborough and reduce manual handling cargo loading/unloading time during station relief to allow the ship to spend more time on research cruises
  • improve small boating facilities for marine research, including a larger crane for launching small boats, a personnel gangway and a floating pontoon for the deployment of scientific instruments such as gliders
Artist’s impression of the new wharf at Rothera

Sustainability and environmental impact

  • all new infrastructure to comply with the BREEAM tailored scheme that BAS has agreed with the Building Research Establishment and is targeting an Excellent rating
  • improved energy monitoring across the whole site and strong focus on demand management to reduce energy use
  • new buildings will have the highest levels of energy efficiency and thermal performance
  • energy-efficient generators incorporating heat recovery to minimise our environmental impact and reduce fuel costs
  • appropriate use of renewable energy technologies

Industry project delivery partners

Our in-house project management, operational and logistics teams are working closely with external partners to deliver the modernisation projects at BAS’s Antarctic research stations.

BAM Nuttall

BAM Nuttall is British Antarctic Survey’s construction partner for the Rothera & Islands modernisation projects.

Graham Hopper

Partnership Operations Director


Maurice Siemensma

Rothera Modernisation Project Manager

Stewart Craigie

Design Team Leader

Neil Goulding

Environmental Lead


Ramboll is British Antarctic Survey’s technical advisor, supporting a number of projects in the Antarctic.

Dave Grove

Contract Director

Bruce Wulff

Contract Lead

Rebecca Grady

Project Manager – Buildings Works

Helen Baker

Marine Technical Lead

Luke Bradley

Discipline Leader – Marine

Tony McGlory

Discipline Leader – MEP

Ben Rowe

Structural advisor

BLOG: Journey into polar engineering

23 June, 2021 by Katie Handford

This International Women in Engineering Day 2021, Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme Trainee Project Manager Katie Handford shares her journey into polar engineering.  I started in high school designing, building and racing 24V electrically powered …

Life in Antarctica

15 February, 2021 by Livia Oldland

Billy Thursfield, Sub-Agent for BAM, is currently working on the construction of the new science and operations facility at Rothera Research Station, the Discovery Building. Here he reflects on working …

Modernising our stations: news from Rothera

29 February, 2024

We’ve been modernising our Antarctic infrastructure for future generations of polar scientists. Construction in the Antarctic is challenging and the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP) has made great progress at …

Update on construction season in Antarctica

12 May, 2023

Modernising Antarctic Infrastructure for Future Generations of Polar Scientists Specialist construction teams are travelling home to the UK after five months of work in Antarctica to modernise British Antarctic Survey …

New polar ship makes London debut

28 October, 2021

RRS Sir David Attenborough visits London as pre-COP event ahead of first mission to Antarctica. The UK’s new polar research ship is making its London debut in Greenwich (Thursday 28 October …

BAS Shortlisted for British Construction Industry Awards (BCI)

21 July, 2021

British Antarctic Survey and the partners delivering the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme are finalists for this year’s British Construction Industry (BCI) Awards in the ‘Partnership Initiative of the Year’ category. …

New building at Rothera breaks ground

30 January, 2020

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the first sighting of Antarctica by the British naval officer Edward Bransfield on this date in 1820, a new building to facilitate the …

Ramboll re-awarded Technical Advisor role

16 January, 2020

Engineering, design and consultancy company Ramboll has been re-appointed as Technical Advisors for British Antarctic Survey (BAS), successfully winning the next phase of work in a series of projects to …

Antarctica: Getting Ready for RRS Sir David Attenborough

19 December, 2019

A major modernisation programme at British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Rothera Research Station begins its second ‘summer season’ this month with the arrival of a 60-plus person team from BAM. Construction …

First Antarctic construction season success

21 May, 2019

ANTARCTICA: At the onset of the Antarctic winter British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Rothera Research Station bids farewell to 50 construction workers.  They have spent the last six months building the …

British Antarctic Survey seeks small passenger aircraft for Antarctica

18 December, 2018

British Antarctic Survey is seeking to purchase a small passenger aircraft to work alongside its de Havilland Canada DHC-7 Series 110 (Dash 7). The aircraft will transport science and support teams and cargo between Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula and Punta Arenas, Chile.

Practice makes perfect

26 September, 2018

The construction team responsible for building a new Antarctic wharf at Rothera Research Station  have been practicing full-scale assembly of the 30 tonne steel rigs in Southampton before deployment South. …

Construction partner announced

4 January, 2017

Construction expert BAM has been chosen to partner with British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to modernise UK Antarctic and other research facilities, enabling British scientists to continue delivering world class research …

Rothera Research Station

The largest British Antarctic facility is a centre for biological research and a hub for supporting deep-field science.

The Discovery Building

The Discovery Building will be a new world-class scientific support and operations facility at Rothera Research Station in Antarctica.