Brazil's Ministry of Defense laid the cornerstone on February 29th for a new Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station that is expected to be ready in 2018. In February 2012, a fire destroyed about 70 percent of its facilities. The new base is being built at the same location as its predecessor, on Keller Peninsula's King George Island, about 3,100 kilometers from the South Pole.
Military authorities expect the building's foundation and support structures will be completed in March. The reconstruction, which began in December 2015, will be resumed during the next Antarctic summer, which runs from November to March.
The Brazilian government, which is spending $99.6 million for the reconstruction, has tasked the Navy with investing the money. The Navy is also in charge of coordinating the Brazilian Antarctic Program (PROANTAR), which was created 34 years ago to carry out scientific research in the area. PROANTAR also is being managed by the ministries of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MCTI); the Environment; Foreign Affairs; Mines and Energy; and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development.
“Conducting research in Antarctica guarantees Brazil the status of Advisory Member on the Antarctic Treaty, ensuring our participation in decisions concerning the future of this continent, which is geopolitically important for our country,” explained Rear Admiral Flávio Augusto Viana Rocha, director of the Brazilian Navy’s Social Communication Center. “The site is already occupied and has infrastructure and two natural lakes to capture water for consumption.”
The new Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station will have 14 internal research laboratories and three external laboratories. The internal laboratories, which researchers will use for molecular biology, biosciences, and bioassays, will be within the main complex's two buildings. The three external laboratories – used for meteorology, chemistry, and the study of the upper atmosphere – are part of what remains of the old station that was not affected by the fire because they were isolated from the central unit.
The station’s operating and maintenance areas will also be installed in the block that will house the laboratories, garages, and the central storage warehouse. The second block will include living quarters, service areas, the dining room, and a common area. An auditorium, internet cafe, meeting room, library, and a common area will be in another attached structure.
Because much of the old Antarctic Station's central unit was destroyed by the fire, the new base has been specially designed to prevent further accidents and minimize damage in the event of an incident. The fuel transfer area, where the fire started in the old station, is now housed in an external area, away from the main buildings. There are also alternative escape routes and approximately 10 emergency exits.
The new base’s architectural design was developed by a firm in Curitiba – the state capital of Paraná – that submitted the winning bid to the Navy and the Brazilian Institute of Architects, according to Rear Adm. Rocha. For the project that is underway, the office has been following guidelines from the Navy’s offices of Civil Works and Naval Engineering, the MCTI, the Ministry of the Environment, and Antarctic researchers.
With the new structure, the Comandante Ferraz Station will have the capacity to accommodate up to 64 people. “During the summer, the 32 members of the Brazilian Navy's base group will be in one block; the researchers will stay in the other,” Rear Adm. Rocha stated. "During the winter, whenever possible, the base group and the researchers will be grouped into one block to save electricity."
The Navy’s base group, which includes the station chief, deputy chief, doctors, dentists, and soldiers specializing in electricity, mechanics, electronics, communications, and rock climbing, is responsible for the facility's maintenance and operation.
Construction of the Antarctic Emergency Modules at the site of the old base was completed in March 2013, a year after the fire destroyed the old station. “There are 45 modules that have allowed Brazil to remain in the Antarctic region, housing the Navy base group and also the researchers,” Rear Adm. Rocha said, adding that after the accident “the scientific exchanges with other countries were maintained, allowing PROANTAR researchers to stay at foreign stations”.
Research was also intensified on board the Almirante Maximiano Polar Vessel (H-41) and the Ary Rongel Oceanographic Support Vessel (H-44), which the Navy uses to support the Brazilian Antarctic Program. The ships are equipped with laboratories and oceanographic equipment and used by researchers to conduct their work. With the support of these vessels, scholars can also establish research camps in different Antarctic regions, according to the MCTI's Press Office.
Currently, PROANTAR supports 24 research projects involving about 300 researchers conducting activities in the field. The Antarctic Science Action Plan for Brazil, prepared by the MCTI, states that the priority areas of research should explore connections between the Antarctic and South American environments, with emphasis on processes that particularly affect Brazil.
This plan establishes PROANTAR’s scientific agenda. Research is underway in different areas of expertise that include studying frozen soils, solar flares, birds, geology, and meteorology. Researchers are also collecting water and marine soil samples.
Each year in October, the Navy conducts Operantar, an operation that allows for the rotation of researchers and brings in the supplies required for the operation and maintenance of Brazil's Antarctic facilities. This activity involves the Almirante Maximiano and Ary Rongel vessels.
PROANTAR also includes the participation of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) to support the soldiers and researchers staying in the Antarctic Emergency Modules during the year. The FAB performs about 10 flights annually – six during the Antarctic summer and four in the winter – using a C-130 Hercules cargo transport plane that uses parachutes for resupply operations during the winter when the Antarctic region is inaccessible to ships.