Brazil to open US$52 million research base in Antarctica

Brazilian_new_base_Estúdio41 (FILEminimizer)
Copyright: Estúdio41

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  • The 19-lab station will increase Brazil's research presence in the Antarctic
  • It will focus on molecular biology, oceanography, geology and climatology
  • Research has continued in emergency modules since the old base burned down in 2012

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[LA SERENA, CHILE] Brazil plans to reopen a substantially improved version of its only Antarctic research station, which burned down killing two people in February last year, a conference has heard.

The bigger and more modern facilities at the Comandante Ferraz base will open in the Antarctic summer of 2014-2015, as part of a drive to expand Brazil's Antarctic research, the 24th Meeting of Latin American Managers of Antarctic Programmes (RAPAL), in La Serena, Chile, was told last week (1-4 September).

"The new station will have 19 laboratories with cutting-edge technology, which will mean an important increase in Antarctic research and the development of new capacities," Marcos Silva Rodrigues, manager of the Brazilian Antarctic Programme and secretary of the Inter-ministerial Commission for the Resources of the Sea, tells SciDev.Net.

The old station was established in 1984 in Admiralty Bay on King George Island, near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The fire destroyed about 70 per cent of it, including installations that scientists were using to study the effects of climate change, the atmosphere, and coastal and marine ecosystems. Samples taken in the 2011-2012 summer season (November to March) were also lost.

Material damage was calculated at US$12.4 million and around 40 per cent of the Brazilian research programme was affected (see Blaze a major blow to Brazil's Antarctic science, in Spanish).

The 2,400 square-metre base was fully dismantled in two months, with more than 800 tonnes of iron and debris shipped to Brazil and 60,000 cubic metres of ice and snow removed, said Silva Rodrigues.

“The new station will mean an important increase in Antarctic research and the development of new capacities.”

Marcos Silva Rodrigues

But he says that research activities have carried on.

"All the projects have continued and, moreover, the average of 150-160 researchers per season increased to 200 in the 2012-2013 summer season thanks to the commitment of the Brazilian navy to transport more scientists," he says.
To host all the scientists and logistical staff, Brazil built 1,000 square metres of emergency modules and used two Navy oceanographic research ships, according to Marcello Melo da Gama, deputy secretary of CIRM, who was speaking at the VII Latin American Congress on Antarctic Science, held after the RAPAL meeting last week (4-6 September).

Meanwhile, an international competition organised by Brazil's Institute of Architects to design the new station received 74 proposals. The winner, Brazilian architecture firm Estúdio 41, was announced in May.

The new building will spread over 3,200 square metres, host 64 people (34 in wintertime), and is expected to cost US$52 million to build.

"This is part of a new drive for the Brazilian Antarctic Programme, with an emphasis in research areas such as molecular biology, oceanography, geology and climatology," says Silva Rodrigues.

The new base is a collaboration between the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and the army, which is in charge of the logistics in Antarctica.

"It will have the best technologies to reuse waste water and produce energy to minimise environmental impact," says Silva Rodrigues. The station will be powered by burning ethanol, along with photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines.

"It will be Latin America's most modern station in the Antarctic Peninsula, where most of the stations are 30 to 50 years old," says José Retamales, head of the RAPAL 2013 meeting and director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

The Brazilian Ministry of Environment has hired consultants to study the environmental impact of the new base. Representatives from three Antarctic Treaty countries have already issued a report certifying that the dismantling and clearing tasks complied with the environmental protection protocol of the treaty, says Silva Rodrigues.