Antarctic Brazilian Station Enters Final Phase of Reconstruction

Antarctic Brazilian Station Enters Final Phase of Reconstruction

By Taciana Moury/Diálogo
March 21, 2018

More than 200 employees work on the construction of the new station, set to open in March 2019.

The new Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station (EACF, in Portuguese) is rising at a fast pace. The construction company is taking advantage of the summer months in the region to continue with the fourth and final phase. A fire on February 25, 2012, destroyed the entire Brazilian station. Officers from the Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) and from other Brazilian government agencies have been monitoring the reconstruction since it began in 2016.

According to MB Captain (R) Geraldo Gondim Juaçaba Filho, a special advisor on EACF reconstruction, the assembly of the western block and of isolated telecommunications, weather, and Very Low Frequency units, will be completed by March 31, 2018, the end of the Antarctic summer. “The eastern technical blocks, as well as the other isolated units, won’t be assembled until next summer, in the October 2018 to March 2019 period, when everything has to be finished,” he said.

The structure being assembled in Antarctica was manufactured at the headquarters of the construction company. It corresponded to the third phase of reconstruction, completed from March to November 2017. “The pillars, structures, and containers that make up the blocks, as well as the isolated modules, the hazardous materials warehouse, and the diving, salvage and sediment washing modules, were all assembled and tested beforehand for their later disassembly, cataloging, and shipment to Antarctica on the Magnólia, a ship chartered by the company to transport them to the installation site,” Capt. Geraldo explained.

MB keeps four engineering officers on site as supervisors, together with 15 other service members who make up the military personnel of the Antarctic Base Group. The Brazilian Ministry of the Environment also provided two inspectors from the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, and the contractor has 212 employees plus the Magnólia crew. “Naval officers oversee the construction at corporate headquarters, as well as in Antarctica, but inspectors of the Ministry of the Environment reinforce the inspection in Antarctica,” Capt. Geraldo said.

According to Capt. Geraldo, the construction project must meet unique specifications. Some issues, he said, were handled at the start of reconstruction. “Antarctica is very isolated—sometimes it takes 45 days of travel by ship for a load of prefabricated materials to reach the assembly site,” he said.

Reconstruction done in stages

The $99.6 million construction project was planned for four distinct and consecutive phases: two manufacturing and pre-assembly phases at company headquarters and two assembly phases in Antarctica. In the first phase of pre-assembly, from March to November 2016, all the foundations for the main building were pre-assembled and a realistic scale model was built.

Over the summer, from December 2016 to March of 2017, the second phase, the start of the work in Antarctica, was completed. Foundations were laid and a job site with accommodations for 72 people was set up, with a platform and a crane to facilitate the unloading of materials from the ship chartered by the company.

“Up to now, these phases have been unfolding as planned,” Capt. Geraldo said, adding that the fourth phase is expected to be completed in March 2019. “But in Antarctica, it’s not always possible to ensure deadlines. What dictates the pace of work there is the weather and the distance from warehouses. Even during the Antarctic summer, strong winds and snowstorms can interrupt work for days and parts or equipment damaged in transit can take weeks to be replaced,” he explained.

MB supports researchers during reconstruction

In a press release to Diálogo, Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communications (MCTIC, in Portuguese) reported that Brazilian research in Antarctica continued after the fire and was carried out in the laboratory of the Antarctic Emergency Modules, and in a container with controlled temperature for biological experiments. “In the latest operations [2016, 2017, and 2018], it was only for security reasons during reconstruction that research activities in the area of the station were suspended or relocated to oceanographic polar vessels and polar camps, or even to foreign military bases,” MCTIC stated.

The MCTIC press release also indicated that the research carried out is part of the 36th Antarctic Operation (XXXVI OPERANTAR), which began in October 2017.“This operation has approximately 250 researchers involved in Antarctic field activities spanning diverse disciplines. Brazilian universities and research institutes run important Antarctic projects in the fields of biology, climate, glaciology, geology, archeology and medicine, among others.”

MB assists a large number of researchers during the construction project with the oceanographic support vessel Ary Rongel and the polar vessel Almirante Maximiano, as well as two aircraft. According to Capt. Geraldo, the ships support about 160 researchers spread out among 22 projects in 13 camps. “Research is carried out aboard the ships using laboratory equipment and organic materials,” he explained.

According to MCTIC, research from the Brazilian Antarctic Program has a direct impact on basic and applied sciences in Brazil. “The new station was designed to house a larger number of laboratories with more modern equipment and greater specificity of use per area, and it will provide the scientific community the opportunity to carry out activities across a broad scientific field,” the MCTIC press release indicated.