Sustainable construction in Antarctica helps advance climate research

Using sustainable construction and smart engineering, BAS is upgrading its polar research facilities to stay at the forefront of climate science

The British Antarctic Survey’s Discovery Building, seen under construction in 2022, will be a new world-class scientific support and operations facility at the UK’s largest Antarctic research station. (video: 4:45 min.)

In the most isolated, remote part of the world, the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization Program (AIMP) is underway. The AIMP is part of a long-term UK government investment to modernize its research facilities in the Polar Regions to support cutting-edge climate, biodiversity, and ocean research. AIMP partners British Antarctic Survey (BAS), BAM, Ramboll, Sweco, and their extended supply chains rely on strong collaboration and advanced technology to deliver the projects in Antarctica—subject to the icy continent’s extreme weather, time-bound building season, and strict sustainability standards to protect the pristine environment.

The project team is building the new facilities using sustainable construction techniques and smart engineering to meet environmental goals. Autodesk Revit and BIM Collaborate enable them to create and share 3D BIM models to deliver better constructability and minimize waste. Using Autodesk Insight with Revit, the design team develops carbon-informed designs that have saved 700 tons of whole-life carbon emissions on the project so far.

Watch the video to learn how BAS and its partners use digital tools to plan and visualize their projects down to the last detail—so they can efficiently execute on a jobsite halfway around the world.

[Video Transcript]

David Brand, Senior Project Manager, BAS: My first trip to Antarctica, I was stunned by the immense vastness of the place. You could see for miles—icebergs, mountains, and also just the numerous amounts of wildlife that live in their natural habitats. It was truly remarkable.

Antarctica holds the majority of the freshwater on this planet, locked up in ice sheets and glaciers. We don’t want to see that melt into the oceans, because one of the major impacts of climate change will be rising sea levels.

The British Antarctic Survey, BAS, has undertaken a 10-year program of construction. The Discovery Building will replace six existing buildings that have reached the end of their life. And these buildings provide operational capability to ensure that more time is spent in delivery of science.

Understanding the impacts that climate change will have in the Antarctic will enable us to better protect that environment, to safeguard the world.

Cambridge is a long way away from Antarctica, about 15,000 kilometers. If we miss something, it’s not as though we could pop down to the local hardware store. That presents a number of challenges, namely distance and the logistics of getting materials, equipment down there. There’s also a limited amount of resource that we can actually deploy.

Each season, we have a cap of about 50 construction workers. We really need to think carefully about how we could become more efficient at how we deliver our construction activity.

It’s really important to BAS that we have a strong and long program of partnership because of the challenges that building in the Antarctic presents. Our three main partners are Ramboll, our technical advisor; BAM, our construction partner; and Sweco, who have worked on really understanding the importance of how we can reduce our carbon emissions through smart engineering.

Bruce Wulff, Framework Manager, Ramboll: With so many different partners working on it and so many different engineers, it's imperative that we have a single model that everybody can relate to.

Stewart Craigie, Technical Director, Sweco: We use BIM 360 [now Autodesk BIM Collaborate] because it gives us that collaborative way of working. It gives us a joint access to the model and it gives us the clear sequence of delivery.

Neil Irving, Digital Construction Manager, BAM: One of the main aspects of working in Antarctica is making things predictable and repeatable. The approach that we take is that we build it before we build it. We use digital tools as much as we can really to rehearse before we arrive on site.

Another way of rehearsing was to utilize the models in different ways. We were able to create a game whereby our excavator operatives were able to practice excavating around the tie rods which made up the wharf.

Wulff: We’re really breaking ground with a lot of this design. There’s no real design standards for Antarctica. You can’t really design a wharf to withstand a 40 megaton iceberg the size of a large building. So you just have to weigh at risk with impacts and come up with the most pragmatic solution.

Natalia Ford, Sustainability Manager, BAS: We’d like the Discovery Building to be designed so that we use approximately 25% less marine gas, oil, across the site. Whilst we slowly transition using other projects to more renewable energy sources.

BAS has a huge wealth of knowledge. There’s a message there for contractors, designers, project managers to start early with their sustainability thinking.

Irving: Understanding the behavior of the icebergs and floating sea ice, we’re actually able to reduce the steel used in the wharf construction by 50%.

Ford: The partnership team that’s helping to create those buildings had to come at things differently in order to reach the kind of goals that we’ve set out to achieve.

Irving: Everybody’s pulling in the same direction regardless of the company that we work for. We’ve had suppliers come into here in Cambridge in meetings with all four partners present and remark that they actually can’t tell who works for who.

Wulff: A lot of clients talk about working collaboratively and in a spirit of mutual trust and cooperation, but it truly feels like we’re walking the walk. There’s no us and them, hopefully it’s the way the industry is going to move in the next ten years.

Brand: The drive towards achieving the best is out among all the team and it fills me with huge excitement, as well as achievements, actually delivering a new building which I can’t wait to see BAS operations and scientists use in their daily lives and hopefully make the world a better place.