Construction season starts at UK’s largest Antarctic science research hub

The next phase of the British Antarctic Survey’s modernisation programme is set to begin with a 6-month construction season at the Rothera Research Station. The station is the UK’s largest Antarctic research and operations hub that supports leading researchers in frontier science in the region.

The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP) is part of the long-term Government investment programme to modernise its research facilities in the Polar Regions. It aims to provide polar science infrastructure to enable the UK to deliver cutting-edge climate, biodiversity and ocean research and innovation in Antarctica. The strong collaborative ethos among the AIMP partners British Antarctic Survey, BAM, Ramboll, Sweco and their extended supply chains is critical to the success of delivering projects in the world’s harshest environment.

After last season’s successful completion of the external skeleton for the new Discovery Building, this season is looking to be the busiest and most challenging since the programme began in 2017. Major works this season include making the 4,500-m2 new Science and Operations building weather-resistant and carrying out airfield improvements. 

Arriving ahead of the main construction cohort, BAM’s team has started to clear several hundred thousand tonnes of snow that accumulated over the Antarctic Winter, setting the stage for the construction season ahead. The remaining construction team arrives in December following a three-and-a-half-week journey to Antarctica onboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

British Antarctic Survey

To ensure the Discovery Building’s thermal performance, the team will begin insulating and cladding, with internal works also getting underway on glazing and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. The state-of-the-art building’s science balcony and control tower will also be installed.

The team will also begin the Runway Resurfacing project, restoring Rothera’s 32-year-old runway to its original length. This will provide an additional runway threshold, providing more room for manoeuvrability for the new BAS aircraft. The runway camber will be restored to enhance surface drainage and remove minor potholing. New energy-efficient runway lighting will be installed, maintaining safe flying operations into Rothera, a critical access point for field science operations.

David Seaton, Head of Construction at the British Antarctic Survey, notes: “This is the start of the most important construction season yet for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme as we upgrade our facilities in Antarctica to enable the continuation of science delivery and support in this most vital region. The pre-deployment training and all other preparation have gone extremely well, the team is motivated and up for the challenge and we look forward to a successful season by the end of which we will have a fully weathertight Discovery Building, keeping us on track for the handover of this wonderful new Science and Operations support asset in 2025, and also have delivered much of the upgraded runway resurfacing and lighting project, putting us in an excellent position to take delivery of our new aircraft in the near future.”

Robert Kerr, Site Agent at BAM for AIMP said:

“The first boots are on the ground and the beginning of a new construction season is off to a great start. So much emphasis is placed on the delivery of work at Rothera that it is easy to overlook the enormous amount of planning and preparation work required by all partners. It is great to see all this hard work paying off.

“The construction team of 55 this year consists of approximately 35-40 returners, which will be key in delivering a very challenging programme of work. Among many objectives for the season, cladding the building will be a defining point in the programme, allowing us to transition from external works to internal works.

“The snow clearing and site establishment works are progressing well and we all look forward to delivering another successful season at Rothera.”


Bruce Wulff, Project Director at Ramboll and Framework Manager for AIMP, says: “The coming construction season looks set to be our most complex and ambitious yet. A huge amount of work from all the partners has gone into planning for the Discovery Building and the runway upgrade works. Teams are now on site and starting to clear the snow to allow for this season’s planned activities: cladding the building, constructing the runway control tower, starting internal works, replacing the runway lighting, and digging trenches across the runway for new duct routes. We wish the team on site every luck as they prepare for this exciting season ahead!”

Read more about the long-term AIMP. The programme aims to keep the UK at the forefront of climate, biodiversity and ocean research.