The World’s Most Extreme Construction Site | The B1M


Our planet’s polar regions are among the most
remote and hostile environments known to humankind. But while these worlds may feel detached from
our everyday lives what happens here, in fact, affects us all. For more than a century research teams have
studied these environments to learn more about our planet as a whole and to monitor how it
is responding to man-made climate change. Now to ensure that it remains at the cutting
edge of research the British Antarctic Survey have partnered with specialist contractor
BAM and UK engineering firm Ramboll to upgrade a number of the survey sites in Antarctica. Five hours by plane from the nearest town
in temperatures that barely peak above freezing during the summer and contending with some
remarkable challenges, this is the world’s most extreme construction site. The need to visit the world’s most hostile
continent is driven by our desire to learn more about our planet and understand how it
is responding to a rapidly changing climate. What happens in Antarctica has a significant
effect on the wider world and its ocean systems and its four-kilometre-thick ice sheet contains
a unique record of the Earth’s climate over the past million years. To ensure that the
UK remains at the forefront of climate, biodiversity and oceanographic research the country’s Natural
Environment Research Council (NERC) has invested more than 300 million pounds over a seven-year
period to upgrade and modernize facilities across the British Antarctic Survey’s network
of sites on the continent. Many of these upgrades revolve around the
Sir David Attenborough research vessel due to launch in 2020. Measuring 30 metres longer
than its predecessor, the James Clark Ross, wharf facilities at Rothera and other research
sites across the Southern Ocean need to be expanded in order for the ship to dock and
unload supplies efficiently. The British Antarctic Survey is responsible
for delivering science in the polar regions. We have five stations in Antarctica or Southern
Antarctica including South Georgia. The work that we do in the marine environment
and the polar environment and then ice cores and glaciology, all these things make a huge
contribution to our understanding of the polar regions and by extension the planet. So the BAM Group up at a worldwide construction
firm. The current project I’m working on is upgrading the facilities in a place called
Rothera in Antarctica. It’s part of a framework that BAM is working with British Antarctic
Survey and Ramboll the technical advisor. We have commissioned this new ship which allows
us to continue doing science in the remote parts of this world. The new ship, the Sir
David Attenborough, is going to allow us to get further into the polar regions. As well
as a new ship, we need infrastructure that supports the new ship. A lot of our land-based assets and buildings
and so on were getting to towards the end of their usable life. So there was a requirement to upgrade them
anyway. Following an 18-month period working with the construction team and BAS in Cambridge
in the UK, we have just been out to site for six months for our first construction season.
Rothera Wharf is a two-season project where we have dismantled the old wharf and we’re
about halfway through building a new wharf. Our target is to finish building the wharf
by April 2020. With a population of more than 100 people
during the summer months the survey’s largest facility is the Rothera research station located
on Adelaide island just off the Antarctic Peninsula. Undertaking construction works
here is far from easy and the project to expand Rothera’s wharf and its associated facilities
has been approached unlike any other. From the outset the key members of the project
team formed a close partnership. Antarctica is very far away particularly from
the UK so it’s a very remote place. It’s an enormous continent. So, it’s very difficult
to get from one place to another in Antarctica. Clearly the environment is very challenging.
I think we say it as the coldest, highest, driest, all sorts of other adjectives, but
how difficult it is to actually do science and any other support works in the continent. Some particularly unique things such as the
orcas and leopard seals which mean restrictions on our diving works, or when we have our divers
in the water either helping during the dismantling of the old wharf or when we’re building
the new wharf. We have icebergs that float past and we hope
to come too close to us when we are building the new wharf, but we have lots of snow and
ice and lots of other things that you don’t necessarily have to deal with on our UK projects. A lot of aspects of delivering construction
projects in Antarctica are a bit counterintuitive. So, you just need to forget one fairly simple
part of a project. It could be a small part of a machine, if you do that all of a sudden,
your entire season is wasted so that you have to plan so much in advance. The twelve months that we spent together as
a staff team planning the works were obviously crucial before we all flew off to Rothera. When we completed our design, we worked hand-in-hand with both the permanent works designer and
in-house BAM team in The Hague with our temporary works designers in Camberley. And we brought
all the design elements together and through digital models to make sure that we had clash detection and planning in place. We used those things at pre deployment training, really
to make sure that everyone had as much knowledge as possible and landed on the ground and knew
what they had to do. The build it before you build it approach
is very important. The frames are modular so that we have 10 fairly similar ones in
the back, 10 fairly similar ones in the front. But to make sure that they all work properly
we actually built them all in the steel work fabricators yard in Southampton before we
even took them on the ship. Because what we don’t want to do is get the site and try and
build it for the first time and realize it doesn’t work. Thankfully all those trials went really well,
and we didn’t actually need any rework, but we had that sanity checked done in the UK
to save us time. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to make any changes in the UK than it is on site. Conditions can be a lot worse than they are over here at home. The main driver for our program and our partnership
model is that we wanted partners who that we knew had all the competencies to deliver
what we need but also, they were going to stick with us for a long time. So, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) they tendered for our construction partners to work closely with
during the early engagement and the planning for the works and also the delivery and the
construction on site. BAM were successful in winning that tender, that was announced
about January 2017. And since then we have been working on the planning for the initial
projects, as well as our team in Cambridge working alongside BAS with the planning, we also have people that go to site and deliver the projects. It’s not really much use for us to get to,
spend quite a lot of money getting our partners on the learning curve to become good at Antarctica,
you know to get the polar badge as it were, and then suddenly decide they’ve had enough
to go somewhere else. So, continuity of the team is very important. We’re looking for
a long-term commitment. So, what we do is we commit long term to them. So, we’ve put
in place a 10-year contract, so BAM came in as our construction partner about three years
ago because we want them to help us deliver a large programme but over a long period time. Committing to a long-term collaborative partnership
is fundamental to the success of delivering projects in Antarctica. We hand select people that we think both have
the skills that are needed technically to deliver the projects but just as importantly,
living with 50 of your colleagues for six months, that we think we’ll get on well and
be able to deal with the environment that we’re faced with when we’re living together
closely and working together closely for such a long time. Most people in construction are used to working
relatively short on off periods. We are asking them to do six months on before they then
get their well-earned break. That’s very tough. Antarctica is an amazing place. Scenically
it’s fantastic. And you know most people will look back at these projects as the highlight
of their careers. However, it’s not easy because you can’t get home. As well as having all our plans in place for
building the job, in some ways that becomes easy bit, we’ve also got to consider how we
keep people engaged and happy for six months including myself. It’s a fantastic place, we are absolutely
not roughing it. The facilities we have are very very good. We have comfortable accommodation,
fantastic chefs, the food is very very good. But you can’t get away from the fact that
you’re stuck there, and you cannot get away. We’ve got a big investment in mental health
and we have to manage the interface between the construction team and the BAS team who
generally come from quite different backgrounds but actually the conclusions from last season
was it was one of the most successful seasons we’ve ever had at Rothera partly because of
the amount of planning that went in to delivering the project but also the integration of all
the people from both the BAS side and the BAM side. We have a really engaged team, the majority
of whom are going back to work on season 2 which is great, and it is great for me as
a project manager that they’re all happy to go back. One of the things we need to consider
during the planning is biosecurity. This is important to make sure that any foreign species
don’t arrive in Antarctica. Antarctica is a pristine environment and we
absolutely want to keep it that way. And when you’re delivering thousands of tons of cargo
it’s quite easy for things to get hidden. You know maybe in the tracks of an excavator
or something like that. We engaged with Transglobal Projects who BAM
worked closely with in Teesport in the north of England. And we had 10 weeks to bring in
all the equipment, check it all over make sure it was compliant both technically for
going to Rothera and also that it was cleaned thoroughly before it was loaded on the ship. Every single piece of kit that came off the
ship was checked off by BAS and BAM together and we made sure that it was safe from a biosecurity
risk point of view to bring onto the station and start the work. So in terms of the next phases of the project.
Initially going back in November 2019 we have to complete all the works on the wharf. We’re
also going to start all our ground works for the new building which is part of the modernization
of the research station. That’s a four-season project. Next season we want to do all the
groundwork and make it ready for the following season where we’ll put the building actually
up and make it watertight. Proudest moment for me is probably the development
of what I think is one of the strongest collaborative partnerships in the construction project delivery.
We have created a really great team including BAS and BAM and Ramboll, SWEKO, NERC and others.
It’s all about partnering and collaborative, it’s about mutual trust and respect. We have
that here. We have such a broad spectrum of people. You
know we have young 21-year old welders in our team and we have people we are nearing
the end of their career, and they’ve all been happy to put their hands up and help us come
and deliver this unique project. It’s really about seeing the joy and the commitment and
the engagement that we have right across the team. Orcas, leopard seals, a live runway.
Icebergs the size of football pitches, four and a half thousand tons of equipment transported
9000 miles. It really is a unique site to work on. With the effects of human activity on the
environment becoming increasingly apparent, the work being carried out by the British
Antarctic Survey is now more important than ever before. By constructing and maintaining these remote
facilities through dynamic and effective partnerships with contractors like BAM, the Survey’s teams
are able to continue their critical work. Though many of us don’t yet recognize the
impacts of the construction sector on our lives. Projects like this which are enabled
by construction and that have such a fundamental influence over our progression on this planet,
powerfully highlight the incredible people and limitless ingenuity that shape the world’s
most important industry. If you enjoyed this video and would like to
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