National Science Foundation
AMUNDSEN-SCOTT SOUTH POLE STATION
"...the elevated structure is the third U.S. station at the Pole since 1956, and an engineering marvel..."
National Science Foundation
The habitat at the previous 1975 Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was constructed inside a 50-meter diameter geodesic dome that became mostly buried each austral winter by constant snowdrifts. Every year, bulldozer crews spent several days excavating the dome out from its winter snow accumulation. However, to avoid a "bowl effect" of snow buildup in the nearby surrounding area, the crews also had to push the snow nearly a mile away, a continual process that expended precious fuel. The dome began to show signs of structural fatigue from years of excessive and unevenly distributed snow loading and no longer had sufficient capacity for the increasing population of operations personnel and visiting scientists.
A precursor to the current dome, the original 1956 South Pole Station suffered the same fate of snow buildup and has long since been crushed under 30 feet of ice.
At the South Pole, eight inches of snow continues to accumulate every year without ever melting in an environment that routinely sees zero humidity with temperatures of minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow, in concert with a steady wind, creates snowdrifts that will inevitably bury a low-lying typical building in months. The “ground” itself is actually a glacier almost 2 miles thick that continues to slide 33 feet toward the sea each year. Because different areas of glaciers move at different speeds, buildings sitting on such a substrate are in constant danger of being ripped apart. Another design challenge is the question of how to get building materials, in this case nearly 40,000 tons, to a site that has no roads, railroads, or other type of access infrastructure.
Intense project programming and strategic site/master planning were
the initial steps for establishing the basic needs and location
for the new Station. For the building itself, mock-ups of various
building shapes were tested in wind tunnels and simulated with fluid
dynamics to determine the ideal building configuration capable of
withstanding the South Pole's harsh wind and snow conditions. Computer
modeling was used to predict wind speed over every square inch of
the building. Eventually, a scale model the size of a conference
table was built and left at the Pole for a few years to observe
the building's performance under actual conditions.
Designed with the profile borrowed from an airplane wing, the new Amundsen-Scott
South Pole Station is elevated and turned into the prevailing near-constant
10-to-15 mph wind to allow winds to flow above and below the station.
Due to a Venturi effect, the accelerating winds beneath the station
effectively help to scour the area of snow, thereby greatly reducing
the need for manual excavation. However, because some snow buildup
is inevitable, the building also sits on 36 uniquely-designed hydraulic
jacking columns that allow the 65,000 square-foot structure to be raised
in 10-inch increments, thereby effectively adding decades to its
building life. (Click here to view a flash animation of these unique architectural features.)
To meet the challenge of building such an endeavor in an extreme
remote environment, the station building is modularly designed for all
parts to be shipped by ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules cargo aircraft.
A city in miniature that includes a NASA plant-growth chamber for
fresh food production, this u-shaped modular structure will accommodate
the National Science Foundation's Polar Research Programs, which
includes150 people during the 3-month summer and 50 people during
the 9-month winter. To allow for the shifting ice "ground" on which
the new station is built, connecting walkways between building modules
are designed to be flexible. To ease fuel consumption, the structure
is insulated to 5 times the value of the average U.S. residence.
Engineers for the Amundsen-Scott
South Pole Station project include PDC, Inc. Consulting Engineers (mechanical, electrical, and fire protection), BBFM Engineers (structural), RWDI (snow engineering), Raytheon (previously called Allied Signal for communications), and George Matsumoto & Associates (food service).
Designed by the Ferraro Choi architectural and engineering team from 1992 to 1999 and with its formal dedication in January 2008, the $153 million Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is a premier example of sustainable architecture that successfully met its mission of providing an environmentally benign human presence on the pristine polar plateau.
Refer also to
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
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