DHV subsidiary SSI wins contract to renovate South Pole research base

DHV subsidiary SSI wins contract to renovate South Pole research base

SSI, the South African subsidiary of Dutch consulting and engineering firm DHV, has been contracted by the South African government to refurbish and modernize the SANAE IV research base in Antarctica.

Under extreme conditions the SANAE IV research base has operated non-stop for the past 15 years at temperatures that in winter can plunge to minus 89°C. The base is home to 4 scientists, 6 engineers and a doctor. They perform meteorological, space and soil research. The base’s radar installation forms part of the multi-national Antarctic radar network. The contracted work must be completed within 40 months.

Improved living conditions

SSI will tackle the base’s energy consumption and the reliability of its old structure that due to the extreme conditions has already completed a service life equivalent to 28 ‘normal’ years. Another part of the work is to improve the living conditions of the scientists and engineers by replacing, repairing or modifying mechanical, electrical and structural components. SSI project manager Johan Scheepers said: “An exploratory study was conducted to identify the condition of all the equipment, including the sewage treatment plant, air conditioning system, kitchen facilities, snow smelter and water supply.” SSI’s recommendations and specifications will form the basis of a tender document.

Logistical challenge

The renovation will be confined to the summer months because of the severe weather. Transporting equipment poses a logistical challenge. The closest landfall is near the German Neumayer base from where lightweight equipment will be carried together with personnel the 300 km to the SANAE base by helicopter. “Heavier equipment will have to be skid-mounted and towed by caterpillar tugs across rough and dangerous terrain”, said Scheepers. “Even in good weather, this journey takes several days.” It is dark 24 hours a day from May to the end of July hence the necessity to execute the work during the summer months when there is daylight and temperatures rise to a balmy minus 10°C.

SANAE stands for the South African National Antarctic Expedition. SANAE IV was established in 1997. The base is located approximately 300 km from the Antarctic coast. In 1998 this project won a prestigious award from CESA, South Africa’s association of consulting engineers.

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