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The station on stilts: German Antarctic research station Neumayer III

Neumayer Station III Photo: Alfred Wegener Institute

Germany's polar research agency has come up with an innovative and state-of-the-art way to enable its Antarctic research facility on a 200m thick ice shelf to cope with snowdrifts that have wrecked two previous facilities – to build it on stilts.

 

The Ekstrom Ice Shelf

Built on the Ekstrom Ice Shelf, a vast sheet of ice which floats on the sea off the Princess Martha Coast, Neumayer III is located in an incredibly exposed area of Antarctica. In winter, temperatures can drop below -40 °C, and it’s also subject to strong katabatic winds that can exceed 100km/h.

The 1,850m2 station, run by the Alfred Wegener Institute, is built on a series of 16 hydraulic stilts that are capable of raising the 2,200-ton complex further above the ground. This allows the station to keep pace with snowdrifts, which can raise the surface of the ice shelf by as much as a metre a year. 

 


Neumayer III at night. Photo credit: Stefan Christmann/Alfred Wegener Institute.

“Neumayer III is a marvel of engineering, it means a new era for scientists on the ice,” said German Science Minister Annette Schavan when opening the facility in February of 2009.

The station consists of two parallel steel tubes, each 8m in diameter and around 90m long, in which containers are inserted to accommodate living facilities, a hospital, scientific laboratories, workshops, two power supply stations and a snow melting plant. It has the capacity to house as many as 40 scientists, and nine people are able to stay at the station for the duration of Antarctica’s harsh winter. The site also houses a separate meteorological observatory.

 

Previous stations buried in snow

Two previous building complexes, also named Neumayer Station were wrecked and buried as the ice shelf under them moved and deformed. The first Neumayer Station was established in 1981 as a research observatory for geophysical, meteorological and air chemistry measurements, as well as a logistics base for summer expeditions.

Scientists working at the station will continue to collect ocean and atmospheric data that are crucial to climate change research, focusing on the state of the ice shelf and changes in global sea levels.

 

The Alfred Wegener Institute

The Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research is located in Bremerhaven, Germany and conducts oceanic and polar research on climate change in the Arctic, Antarctic and in the high and mid-latitude oceans. The institute was founded in 1980 and is named after meteorologist, climatologist and geologist Alfred Wegener.

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