The Halley VI Antarctic Research Station Wins ASCE’s 2015 OCEA Award

March 26, 2015
The Halley VI Research Station can negotiate Antarctica's terrain by means of ski-mounted hydraulic legs.
The Halley VI Research Station can negotiate Antarctica's terrain by means of ski-mounted hydraulic legs.

ASCE’s Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement award winner for 2015 is the flexible, portable Halley VI Antarctic Research Station, announced Thursday evening at the Society’s OPAL Gala in the nation’s capital region.

Designed by AECOM of Reston, Va., and Hugh Broughton Architects of London, the Halley VI is a futuristic, $43 million state-of-the-art research facility that is segmented into eight modules, each sitting atop ski-fitted, hydraulic legs designed to cope with rising snow. These legs can be individually raised to overcome snow accumulation, and each module can be towed independently to a new location.

“Halley VI has a unique and highly innovative way of prolonging its working life almost indefinitely in [this] environment,” said Peter Ayres, BEng, CEng, MICE, MIStructE, director of building engineering for AECOM and strategic development director of the Halley VI. “These innovations mean that Halley VI can be positioned relatively close to the edge of the ice shelf, shortening supply routes and reducing energy consumption, but without the risk of being buried by snow or drifting away on a giant iceberg. And, as the base drifts out toward the ocean, the modules can be lowered onto their skis and towed inland and reassembled in a new, safe location[,] which will occur every 10 years or so.” See a video about the project, as presented at the gala:

Other finalists for the 2015 OCEA were the Colton Crossing Flyover rail project, Colton, CA; the Echo Park Lake Rehabilitation Project, Los Angeles; the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge New East Span; and the Ward County Water Supply Project, West Texas.

Located on the 500-foot-thick Brunt Ice Shelf floating in the Weddell Sea in Antarctica, the Halley VI Research Station is run by the British Antarctic Survey to study Earth’s atmosphere. Measurements taken at previous Halley stations led to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985. In an extreme environment where temperatures plummet to -69°F with wind speeds of 100 mph, the previous five bases, first constructed in 1956, had become buried in snow and had to be abandoned.

A central red module contains communal areas for dining and relaxation, while blue modules provide accommodations, laboratories, offices, generators, an observation platform, and many other facilities. Remote scientific equipment, set up for long-term monitoring, is housed in a number of cabooses around the perimeter of the site, which also contains numerous aerials and arrays for studying atmospheric conditions and space weather.

Halley VI is packed with inventions, innovations, and technologies transferred from other industries, including a prefabricated integrated building envelope composed of 9-inch-thick closed-cell polyisocyanurate foam insulation to help to keep the extreme cold out; translucent glazing using nanogel technologies developed in the aerospace industry; and an aerodynamic design to improve snow management. The building is highly energy efficient and has a low environmental impact. All waste is treated for disposal or recycling on site, so that no physical waste whatsoever is left on the pristine Antarctic snowscape.

Wrote the OCEA jurors: “Probably the most innovative project of all the [OCEA] entries, the Halley VI Antarctic Research Station provides a living environment that must function in the most extreme of weather conditions. The ability to move the station with just two people in a week’s time makes it truly an amazing project when considering its size. In terms of sheer wow factor, this project is a winner. This project is really unique, includes some interesting innovations – such as the hydraulic legs on skis that can lift the building out of drifts of snow – and was built under very difficult conditions. [It] includes a number of novel energy efficiency features.

“This impressive structural achievement, which has been deemed a ‘once in a lifetime project,’ sets out to establish a place for important science research in one of the world’s most punishing terrains. Merging sophisticated logistical planning with high-end engineering, the project’s vast campus spatially accommodates renowned scientists and thinkers [so they can better] analyze relevant and urgent changes in nature. Worth noting, the structure includes self-contained sewage treatment, water systems and combined heat and power generation. The complex also includes a workshop, a vehicle garage, storage units, and an accommodation module. The research conducted here could result in lasting advancements.”

Established by ASCE in 1960, the OCEA award annually recognizes a project that makes a significant contribution to both the civil engineering profession and society as a whole.

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