Brazilian Navy Rebuilds their Research Station in Antarctica

The new Comandante Ferraz Station is expected to commence operations in 2018. The project will cost nearly $100 million.
Taciana Moury/Diálogo | 21 February 2017

Capacity Building

Digital illustration of the Brazilian Navy’s new Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station. (Photo: Brazilian Navy)

The Brazilian Navy has begun reconstruction of a new Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station (EACF, per its Portuguese acronym), after a fire on February 25, 2012, destroyed its structure. At present, in addition to the 15 service members who comprise the permanent group at the station, another 67 people – among whom are workers, auditors, and the administrative staff of the company in charge – are facing the challenge of working on the planet’s coldest and driest continent. In this first phase, all foundational blocks of the modules that will support the laboratories, cafeterias, offices, and dormitories will be installed.

The old Comandante Ferraz Station before the 2012 fire. (Photo: Brazilian Ministry of Science

The project will cost $99.6 million, and the new station is projected to commence operations during the first half of 2018. “The project’s logistics will be overseen by a company hired to perform these services. All the elements that make up the station will be pre-assembled outside of Antarctica, and then brought in by ships,” explained Rear Admiral Flávio Augusto Viana Rocha, director of the Brazilian Navy’s Communications Center.

According to Rear Adm. Rocha, rebuilding the station will ensure its permanent occupation and fulfillment of scientific research in Antarctica, supporting Brazil’s status as a consultative member of the Antarctic Treaty. “This enables Brazil to actively participate in decisions involving the future of that continent,” he explained. Since 1975, Brazil has been a signatory member-nation of the Navy’s Antarctic Treaty and has conducted scientific activities on the continent. The treaty stipulates that countries may only make use of scientific exploration of the continent on the basis of international cooperation.

The project’s full cost, from infrastructure to logistics, is being financed by the Brazilian Navy and the Ministry of Defense. The new EACF will occupy the same location as the previous one and has an area of around 4,500 square meters. According to Andrei Polejack, general coordinator for Oceans, Antarctica, and Geosciences at the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communications, the project was designed with the direct participation of both the scientific and military communities, which are the main users of the facilities.

“What really sets it apart is the space allocated for research and more laboratories – 14 now, instead of six – with the latest equipment designed specifically for use by area,” Polejack noted. In addition to the 14 labs, the new station will have a specific area for storing cold and frozen samples, known as ultra-freezers; an area for autoclaves and distillers, and a research locker for storing materials.

“The EACF is a scientific station, fostered and designed to facilitate the Brazilian Navy’s development and constant improvement of Antarctic science, conducted by the Brazilian scientific community in an international environment,” Polejack added. The new station will contribute to the training of hundreds of scientists, and a vast collection of studies in different domains, he opined.

Brazilian Navy’s Antarctic Program

Aerial view of the current structure of the station

Nearly 300 researchers from the Brazilian Navy’s Antarctic Program (PROANTAR, as per its Portuguese acronym) conduct studies in the region each year. According to Polejack, the research area was designed to meet a multitude of demands, with priority given to PROANTAR’s scientific activities. “The goal is to carry out the provisions set out in the ‘Action Plan for Antarctic Science for the period of 2013 to 2022.’ The plan defines priority investigation areas by presenting five research-specific programs. These thematic programs explore the connections between Antarctica’s environment and that of South America, emphasizing the processes that affect Brazil in particular,” Polejack said.

Brazil is working on major research projects related to monitoring upper atmospheric phenomena, like temperature and gravitational waves; the dynamics of the hole in the ozone layer and ultraviolet rays; surface atmospheric parameters; inventory of local fauna and flora (both on land and sea); air quality, and local environmental impacts (soil contamination).

Researcher Luiz Henrique Rosa explained that PROANTAR’s research involves biotechnology aimed at discovering organisms capable of producing antibiotics, antifreeze substances, cosmetics, and sun block. He states that the new station will contribute to the expansion of scientific operations in Antarctica. “It’s Brazil’s ‘home’ in the Antarctic. With new modern labs, higher quality research can be done, and Brazil can further international partnerships with other countries that conduct research in Antarctica, thus strengthening the exchange of knowledge and technologies.”

Antarctic emergency modules

Since the 2012 fire, Brazil’s activities in Antarctica have been conducted in emergency Antarctic modules. There are 45 modules in an area of 940 square meters, which house 15 Brazilian service members who make up the permanent contingent in Antarctica, in addition to the scientists. The structure integrates housing with laboratories, which has made it possible for scientific projects to continue from the post-fire period, until today. According to Polejack, during the rebuilding period, only research of interest to the observation of work such as environmental monitoring is being conducted.

According to Rosa, the 2012 fire compromised important activities that were already consolidated, “primarily in the first two years after the accident, given that all the station’s work was focused on removing debris and recovering the impacted area.”

With the installation of the emergency Antarctic modules, part of the research activities at the station has resumed, but just barely. “The modules are interesting structures and were a good palliative measure, given what was possible, to resume scientific activities at Admiralty Bay, after the 2012 fire,” the researcher explained.

Rosa emphasized, however, that PROANTAR also works on polar oceanographic ships – Almirante Maximiano (H-41) and Ary Rongel (H-44) – which provide support to studies at universities and research institutes in Brazil. “The two ships have structures for labs, and cargo for studies where we navigate along the Antarctic Peninsula and set up camps on various Antarctic islands.”

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