RRS Sir David Attenborough berths at new Antarctic wharf for first time

17 December 2021
Britain’s new polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, has travelled to Antarctica on its maiden voyage. Its first call today is at Rothera Research Station, the UK’s largest Antarctic research station on the continent and has berthed for the first time at its new wharf.
The RRS Sir David Attenborough berths for the first time at the new Rothera Wharf

The RRS Sir David Attenborough berths for the first time at the new Rothera Wharf

Dave Grove. Ramboll

Dave Grove

Director, and government lead
T: +44 7841 498 236

The RRS Sir David Attenborough departed the UK in November, arriving in the Falkland Islands three-and-a-half weeks later. From there, the ship continued its voyage, officially entering Antarctica on 13 December. The ship has now arrived at British Antarctic Survey’s largest research facility, transporting station personnel, food, fuel and cargo. 

The RRS Sir David Attenborough’s arrival at Rothera Research Station also marks the first time the new purpose-built £40m wharf has been used to berth the ship. The 74-metre wharf was completed in 2020 by the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation (AIMP). It enables Britain’s new polar research ship to berth safely and help the station run more efficiently with a new crane to launch small science boats, a personnel gangway and a floating pontoon to deploy scientific instruments. The wharf achieved the first sustainability CEEQUAL award in Antarctica for construction projects last July, gaining the highest rating available of ‘Excellent’ by BRE.

New Discovery Building construction season gets underway

The ship's arrival also signifies the start of the new construction season with activity on the Discovery Building for the third year in a row – a new state of the art, science and operations facility for Rothera Research Station. Due to the harsh, cold Antarctic environment, construction can only take place during the Antarctic summer months. Over 50 members of a specialist construction team arrived last month and will work until April on erecting the main steel structure, installation of ground floor pre-cast concrete slabs, ground drainage and site wide services. 

Upgrades to Rothera Research Station, including the wharf and Discovery Building, were commissioned by UKRI-NERC to ensure Britain remains at the forefront of polar science. The construction partnership includes BAM, design consultants Sweco, and Hugh Broughton Architects providing delivery design. Ramboll is acting as Technical Advisors, with architects NORR providing concept design. The partnership is working on upgrading old Antarctic buildings, with sustainability embedded into the design, construction and operation of new infrastructure.

Will Whatley, Captain of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, says:
“Everyone on board is thrilled to arrive at Rothera for the first time. This is a really exciting and proud moment for us, and another huge milestone to have achieved. As we’ve travelled further South we’ve had the chance to put the ship through its paces in Antarctic conditions – and I’m pleased to report the ship has performed really well”

Jon Ager, Programme Director (AIMP), British Antarctic Survey, says:
“The ship is a state-of-the-art research and logistic vessel, enabled by world-class infrastructure, that has been delivered by an amazing team of professional and technical experts from BAS and our industry partners. As we look to the next stage of modernisation, the Discovery building and investment in future infrastructure will focus on reducing our carbon footprint, and on our custodianship of a truly remarkable environment and community that provides us with the leading science that BAS is renowned for.”

After calling at Rothera, the ship will continue its mission South, making calls at Signy, King Edward Point and Bird Island research stations, and heading to the Stange Ice Front for its ice trials. 

More about the innovative ‘flat-pack’ wharf

The Rothera wharf was developed using a modular solution to overcome the remote and environmentally extreme challenges. To share this unique approach the AIMP team has produced a paper that is now published in the ICE proceedings if you would like more insight into its construction.

Ramboll. RRS Sir David Attenborough. Image courtesy of British Antarctic Survey

British Antarctic Survey

Appointed by NERC as Technical Advisors to BAS (British Antarctic Survey), Ramboll is providing specialist engineering and consultancy services for seven years. Delivering a host of projects within the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP), BAS and its Technical Advisors (including NORR Architects and Turner & Townsend) are preparing for one of the world’s most advanced Polar research ships - the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Ramboll. Rothera Research Station Wharf. British Antarctic Survey

British Antarctic Survey - Rothera Research Station

The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation programme (AIMP) to support world-class science through an upgrade of British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research stations and infrastructure includes preparations for one of the world’s most advanced Polar research ships - the RRS Sir David Attenborough. 


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