British Antarctic Survey - Rothera Research Station

Ramboll. Rothera Research Station Wharf. British Antarctic Survey

Ramboll. Rothera Research Station Wharf. British Antarctic Survey


Dave Grove. Ramboll

Dave Grove

Director, Project Management
T: +44 7841 498 236

The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation programme (AIMP) supports world-class science through an upgrade of British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research stations and infrastructure. It includes preparations for one of the world’s most advanced Polar research ships - the RRS Sir David Attenborough. 

The BAS technical advisory team led by Ramboll, which includes NORR architects and Turner & Townsend are providing specialist engineering and consultancy services for the AIMP. At Rothera the modernisation work includes a new wharf to accommodate the new RRS Sir David Attenborough and upgrading station infrastructure with a new Rothera Masterplan. This includes several new buildings, and site wide services to reduce operating costs and keep Rothera fit-for-purpose to facilitate world leading research for at least the next 25 years.

Rothera research station, on the Antarctica Peninsula, is the largest BAS research facility and supports a wide range of BAS, UK and international collaborative science programmes. Science supported at Rothera provides vital information on climate change. Because the western Antarctic Peninsula has been the most rapidly-warming region in the Southern Hemisphere, Rothera is ideally suited for real time climate change research. The station currently has 16 buildings and houses up to 130 personnel during the summer months.

Construction of the new £40m Rothera wharf took place between the 2018/19 & 2019/20 Austral summers by BAS’s Construction Partners BAM, supported by Ramboll. The Masterplan construction began in 2019/20, with the new discovery building breaking ground. 

New Rothera wharf

The redevelopment of Rothera included a new, larger wharf necessary to accommodate the new RRS Sir David Attenborough. At 128m long the new ship is 30m longer and with greater draught than its predecessors. The new wharf features a larger crane and enhanced cargo handling facilities to accelerate relief times and improve facilities for the deployment of small boats and gliders for scientific use. As part of the BAS sustainability strategy, the new wharf construction made use of existing rock fill and the structure has an increased design life. Ensuring the construction on site went to plan, a digital model developed by BAM visualized the planned construction sequence, and helped to ensure the wharf was delivered on time.

New masterplan

Many of the buildings at Rothera are either past or nearing the end of their design life, resulting in increasing operational costs. Ramboll has developed a masterplan and assessment study to ensure the replacement of buildings including the operations buildings, hangar, marine facility and accommodation block as well as site wide infrastructure, deliver the best outcomes for BAS and those working at the station. 

We’ve gained thorough and vital end user input through meetings, workshops and one-to-ones to ensure the masterplan and assessment study addresses the specific needs of the station users. This has included reduced fuel usage, maintenance costs, snow clearance and manual handling. We have also addressed the needs of improving station liveability and interaction between teams.

Discovery Building for science and operations

The new operations building, named The Discovery Building to commemorate the discovery of Antarctica 200 years ago, will consolidate and rationalise the estate, replacing a series of buildings spread across the site which are outdated or costly to maintain. The two-storey 4,500m2 building will accommodate preparation areas for field expeditions, a central store, medical facility, offices, recreational spaces, workshops and areas for plant.

Minimising the environmental impact of Rothera Research Station is a key part of BAS’s vision for the site. The use of a bespoke BREEAM accreditation and assessment system, developed by BAS with support from Ramboll in collaboration with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to suit the special Antarctic setting, helps to ensure that the highest environmental and sustainability standards are met.

The energy-efficient, aerodynamic design is oriented into the prevailing wind and utilises a deflector to channel air at higher speeds down the leeward face, minimising snow accumulation around the entire perimeter of the building. It is the first time a snow and wind deflector has been used at this scale in Antarctica, which will prove hugely beneficial due to snow clearance causing major disruption to operations on the station. From data gathered through snow modelling and station user input, the team has ensured the orientation of the buildings and their main access points have minimal impact from snow accumulation. The operations building has been designed using a steel frame to allow for future flexibility in reconfigurations. The inclusion of precast concrete in several the buildings also enables quicker on-site construction and higher quality control.

Energy Modelling


To deliver improved energy efficiency, Ramboll undertook a site wide energy strategy. Using a specially developed digital tool – a parametric Energy Simulation Workflow (ESW), Ramboll has identified the optimal sustainable designs for heating and powering the research station. The ESW combines CIBSE best practice energy modelling methodology with genetic algorithms to goal seek and find the best possible solution within stated parameters. The tool evaluated solutions from over 5 million scenarios in a matter of weeks, ensuring that no stone was left unturned. An interactive user interface enabled BAS to easily interrogate the dataset, enabling easy and efficient decision making. The proposed solution delivered, not only meets energy demands, it significantly reduces fuel consumption, a key component in the Rothera modernisation in its long term aims to have net-zero carbon emissions. 

After undertaking the energy modelling, Ramboll designed the mechanical and electrical services strategies, using the optimal solutions to deliver the best energy efficiency, whilst ensuring they are simple to maintain. The solutions proposed include waste heat recovery from electricity generation, which will be fed into a district heating network and distributed around the station. A mix of CHP units and solar PV has also been included in the proposed design. We are also undertaking BREEAM pre-assessments with the target to achieve an excellent rating.

A glimpse into construction of the new Rothera wharf

Final Rothera wharf Season 2 - 2019/20

Before the team could begin the final construction season of the wharf 2000 tonnes of snow had to be cleared, due to the site not being operational during the dark Antarctic Winter. The 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.


First Rothera wharf season 1 - 2018/19

During the first season, the BAM construction team, supported by Ramboll as site supervisors deconstructed the old Biscoe wharf. Temporary cargo unloading and boat launch facilities were set-up and the first six steel frames of the new wharf were lowered into place.

Extreme construction to build the new wharf

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.

Wharf geotechnical site assessments

In preparation for the design of the new wharf, Ramboll worked closely with divers to assess and obtain a clear picture of the new quay wall’s proposed location. Having developed a dive methodology and inspection plan, two divers measured and visually captured the rock’s fracture spacing and geological features. The survey had to overcome several difficulties caused by the natural elements of the site with rubble and overhanging ice cliffs restricting access to a section of the sea bed and the eastern side of the quay wall. Aiming to minimise any environmental impact, Ramboll carried out an initial assessment of potential quarry locations to identify if local rock could be used to infill the wharf. Preparations for the new wharf also required a survey of proposed bollard locations and examination of rock type to ensure it could withstand the forces of the new ship when anchored.

About Government investment in the AIMP

Commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (UKRI-NERC), the long-term modernisation programme of the BAS facilities will transform how BAS enables and supports polar science. Together with the commissioning of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, the modernisation programme at the UK’s Antarctic research facilities represents the largest Government investment in polar science infrastructure ever. It will enable a world-leading capability and ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of climate, biodiversity and ocean research in the Polar regions.

Further information

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