Rothera Station

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Rothera Research Station is a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) base in Antarctica. The station is the BAS's major air operations logistics base for scientific research in Antarctica.

I. D. Group Inc. provided engineering services for Rothera Station. The services included site evaluation, geotechnical investigation, design, project management, and construction inspection of a runway with lighting, hangar, fuel storage and dispensing facility, wharf, and water supply system.


  • Concept, surveys and geotechnical – 1983 to 1985
  • Design – 1989, wharf 1990
  • Construction:
    • December 1989 to April 1990 – Runway rock fill, hangar, fuel storage
    • November 1990 to March 1991 – Runway surface, hangar completion, fuel storage and piping completion, wharf, water supply


Rothera Point, Adelaide Island, Antarctica is a tiny point of land that is relatively ice free during the Antarctic summer. The BAS base station at Rothera is used as a supply base to support scientific research on the continent. {{#display_map:-67.567986, -68.127415 | height= 600px| width= 500px| zoom=3}}


Damaged Otter
Rothera Prior to Runway Construction

Supplies and personnel were brought to Rothera by ship and flown to various research sites and camps by ski equipped Twin Otters. The Otters operated off a runway on the ice sheet about 5km above the sea level camp. The aircraft were severely damaged from time to time by katabatic winds.

BAS proposed to build a 1000m runway located across the saddle of the isthmus of Rothera Point, in a north-south direction with both ends protruding into the ocean. In addition, a hangar, six 240,000 litre fuel tanks, and a new salt water intake were to be constructed. During the first season of construction BAS indicated a wharf would be a desirable addition as ships like the RRS Bransfield and the RRS John Biscoe had to anchor offshore and employ tenders or tug and barges. Transferring fuel was particularly risky in the iceberg infested ocean.


Rothera in January 2008

The 915 metre long by 45 metre wide runway design applied extensive marine and geotechnical engineering to establish appropriate design parameters for ocean wave and ice conditions, freeboard, shoreline protection, slope stability, and permafrost conditions. The runway entailed blasting, excavating, and placement of 300,000 cubic metres of rock into seawater depths of 10 to 30 metres with a height of 4 metres above sea level.

The prefabricated steel hangar is capable of housing a Dash-7 and two Twin Otter aircraft. The specially reinforced hangar has a 30 metre clear span door opening.

The fuel storage and dispensing system has three marine and three aviation fuel tanks with a combined capacity of 1.4 million litres. The tank farm was designed as a re-circulated all weather facility with over and under wing fuel dispensing capability. A direct off loading point at the wharf 600 metres from the tank farm is connected by below and above ground fuel lines.

Ship at Warf
Fuel Pipes
Cross Section of Warf

The wharf is 60 metres long with a draft of 9 metres. It is a tied back sheet pile wall structure built around a steel frame and backfilled with rock. The front of the frame and middle support are pipe piles anchored into the bedrock. The front sheet piles are anchored back with Dywidag rods to a second sheet pile wall. The bottom was sealed to the rock with concrete bag riprap. The underwater installation was monitored by divers from Winnipeg’s Dominion Divers.

After a meeting of interested contractors in Cambridge, England in January, 1989 and a site trip to Rothera Point in February, 1989, tenders were received in July 1989. The construction contract was awarded to Pelly Construction of Whitehorse, Yukon at the end of September, 1989.

The construction season at Rothera is December through to March. Columbialand, a 30,000 ton Class 1A ice rated ship was chartered for mobilization from Vancouver. Construction equipment located in the Yukon was trucked to Skagway, Alaska and barged to Vancouver. The ship was loaded with the heavy equipment, 100 containers of materials, camp and food, and two tugs and barges. The ship departed December 20, 1989 and after stops in Los Angeles for fuel and in Chile to pick up construction and engineering personnel, the ship arrived at Rothera January 18, 1990. All of the cargo was ashore by January 23, 1990. The fuel was pumped into the barge sections and then into four 90,000 litre bladders. Emptied barge sections were employed to store the rest of the fuel.

During this first season the bulk rock fill portion of the runway was completed. The pre-fabricated steel hangar shell and 30 metre door was erected and the fuel tank farm was constructed. Work was carried out around the clock with 20 hours of daylight. The crew was flown out to Chile and on to Canada by mid-April ending the first construction season.

The wharf, designed during the summer of 1990, was fabricated in England and Germany and transported to Antwerp. To mobilize for the second construction season a cruise ship was chartered from Antwerp. All of the work, including the wharf was completed by March 31, 1991. A Dutch ship, the Spiethof, was chartered to demobilize material and equipment not incorporated into the project. The ship arrived at Rothera mid April and was loaded in three days. After a non-stop 30 day voyage to Skagway, Alaska the cargo was unloaded and trucked back to Whitehorse.

The Rothera project was unique, displaying Canadian design and construction capabilities for cold regions. Innovative designs, effective communications and dynamic project management were the key to the success of the project. Continuous flow of information across three continents and seven time zones was maintained between Rothera, IDG’s Winnipeg office, Pelly’s Whitehorse office and BAS’s Cambridge office. The final project cost was $30 million.

  • Rothera Airstrip
  • Plane on the Airstrip
  • Warf Frame
  • Warf Under Construction



Travelling to Rothera was challenging. Some trips were made by flying to London, flying by military aircraft to the Falkland Islands during and after the war with Argentina, then a cargo ship to Rothera. Another route was several flights to Punta Arenas, Chili, then either a cargo ship or a harrowing flight by Chilean Air Force to Marsh and Twin Otter to Rothera. Both routes were at least a week or much longer one way.

November 24, 1994, four people died in a Twin Otter crash off the end of the runway on take-off. The Kenn Borek Air Ltd aircraft had refueled at Rothera on its way to Terranova Bay on the Ross Sea where it was to have been used by the Italian National Antarctic Program (Winnipeg Free Press). April 25, 2001, the Rothera runway was used by Kenn Borek Air Ltd as a staging point for a daring medical evacuation from the USA research base at the South Pole (CTV below).

Site personnel enjoyed the Penguins that were regular visitors.


The entire facility continues to serve the Rothera base and other research facilities well. Key players are:

  • Client – British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
  • Designers/Engineers/Geoscientists: I. D. Systems Ltd., I. D. Engineering Company Ltd., Independent Test-lab Ltd. Dr. Ken Adam P. Eng., Bev. Fisher P. Eng., Don Mulder P. Eng., Doug Scott P. Eng., Rudy Isaak P. Eng., John Ilg. P. Eng. Al Myska P. Eng., Greg Fiorentino P. Eng. Larry Williams P. Eng., K. V. Lew P. Eng., Blaine Murray P. Eng.
  • Construction: Bruce Piercy P. Eng., Gil Mourant P. Eng., Dale Emerson P. Eng. Inspection, Ken Chura CET, Gil Lamothe (Dominion Divers). Geotechnical, Gord Van Ness, Dennis Yeremko, Rick Bornn CET. Survey, Steve Redman CET, Colin Ledger CET, Pat Adams CET.
  • Contractor – Pelly Construction Ltd., Whitehorse, Yukon. Keith Byram P. Eng., B. Sc. (Manitoba)


  1. THE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION OF A RUNWAY AND WHARF AT ROTHERA POINT, ADELAIDE ISLAND, ANTARCTICA. Gil Mourant P. Eng., Keith Byram P. Eng. 1994 (Unpublished, available from authors)
  2. ANTARCTIC HEAVY CONSTRUCTION by Keith Byram, P. Eng., Pelly Construction Ltd., Whitehorse, Yukon. Canadian Civil Engineer Volume II No. 1, CSCE 1994
  3. Staff January 24, 2013 Canadian pulled off daring 2001 South Pole Rescue