The Antarctic Infrastructure and Modernization for Science (AIMS) project is one of the initiatives of the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF) United States Antarctic Program’s (USAP) major capital investment effort to support the United States' world-class science program in Antarctica. The infrastructure, now under construction, consists of a modern dormitory and state of the art Vehicle Equipment Operations Center. Both are initial steps in the modernization effort to ensure that McMurdo Station remains a viable platform for supporting Antarctic science for the next 35 to 50 years.

Photo of clouds
Jack Green; USAP Photo Library

Reviews and the Current State of the Antarctic

High-level reviews of USAP's ongoing Antarctic presence are conducted every 10 to 15 years. The aim of the most recent review was to ensure that the Nation continues to pursue the best trajectory for conducting science and diplomacy in Antarctica over the next twenty years— one that is environmentally sound, safe, innovative, affordable, sustainable, and adheres to the Antarctic Treaty. The most recent review, initiated in 2010, was conducted in two parts.

A National Research Council (NRC) committee completed the first part of the review by examining likely science drivers for the coming decades in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and producing The U.S. Antarctic Program: Future Science Opportunities in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean. In a series of reports, it envisioned that future science activity in the Antarctic region would entail new scientific directions, broader geographic spread, and increased international involvement to support the quantity and duration of observations envisioned to facilitate U.S. scientific leadership in science achieved in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

The 2011 NRC report and other studies influenced the second part of the review, wherein a Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP) was commissioned by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and NSF to conduct an independent assessment of the USAP logistics support system. The BRP was asked to identify and characterize a range of options for supporting and implementing required national scientific endeavors, international collaborations, and strong U.S. presence in Antarctica.

Hut Point
Kristan Hutchison; USAP Photo Library

The BRP's report, released in summer 2012, concluded that ushering in a new age of Antarctic science simply by expanding traditional methods of logistical support would be prohibitively costly. Consequently, the panel recommended numerous ways to more efficiently and cost-effectively support research while maintaining high standards of safety, and increasing the flexibility to support evolving areas of science in the future.

Among other things, the BRP stated "U.S. activities in Antarctica are very well managed but suffer from an aging infrastructure, lack of a capital budget, and the effects of operating in an extremely unforgiving environment."" With regard to the logistics and infrastructure in Antarctica, the BRP stated, "Whatever the source of funds, the USAP logistics system is badly in need of remediation and will cost more to restore as each year of inattention passes. In the longer term, increased logistical efficiency could yield savings that would substantially increase the amount of research supported by NSF."

In response, NSF developed a response in the form of a long-term capital investment plan and plans for implementing the detailed actions called for in the BRP report. At this time, NSF has succeeded in completing a significant number of the implementing actions, including replacement of outdated enterprise systems and supply equipment.

Development of the AIMS Project

Many of the BRP report's recommendations required longer-term investment, planning, and construction efforts. As a result, NSF took steps to establish a major, multi-year initiative in pursuit of these outcomes. The infrastructure modernization proposed under the AIMS project, as well as under the new Antarctic Infrastructure Recapitalization (AIR) Program, are to ensure that McMurdo Station remains a viable platform for supporting Antarctic science for the next 35 to 50 years. The guiding principles for the overall project are that the improvements should:

  • Reduce operational costs and support personnel requirements
  • Improve operational efficiency
  • Reduce energy consumption for facilities and operational support
  • Provide a safe and healthy working environment for USAP personnel
  • Provide the flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of U.S. science in Antarctica over a 35-50 year planning horizon
  • Reflect the “active and influential presence” in Antarctica in a manner consistent with U.S. stature in the international research community.

The development and design for the AIMS project is expected to take place in the years ahead, with construction of the Vehicle Equipment Operations Center (VEOC) and Lodging Facility concluding in late 2025. The project originally included the following major elements:

  • Redevelopment of the core facilities for McMurdo Station into a smaller, more energy- and operationally-efficient facility optimized for support of local and deep field science
  • Replacement of the major McMurdo Station service and logistics facilities, including administration, dining, warehousing, trades shops and field science support
  • Establishment of a continuity of operations wing with modernized fire, medical and personnel support capabilities
  • Environmental and safety upgrades to all facilities for modern fuel containment, utilities distribution, and fire protection
  • Replacement of aging dormitory buildings with a 285-bed lodging facility comprised of both single and double rooms
  • Development of a VEOC, capable of safely maintaining and servicing all vehicles and engines used at McMurdo or used for the McMurdo/South Pole traverse

Only Lodging and VEOC construction will be conducted under AIMS, with all other facilities folding into the AIR Program.

Past Steps

The AIMS project was generally divided into five major phases:

  1. Conceptual Design Phase (CDR) — To formulate major science and support requirements, identify high risk items, develop construction budget
  2. Preliminary Design Phase (PDR) — To identify site-specific preliminary design and environmental impacts, develop enabling technologies, complete construction estimate
  3. Final Design Phase — To deliver final construction-ready design and PEP, industrialize key technologies, complete construction-ready budget
  4. Construction — Construction of VEOC and Lodging was awarded in April 2019, allowing on-ice construction to begin

As AIMS moved through these phases, our goal was to engage stakeholders, provide transparency, and serve our community of scientist-grantees by ensuring our infrastructure improvements provide maximum support for, and minimal impediment to, the ongoing research taking place at McMurdo Station.

This website will continue serve as a source of information, updates, and dialog on this project. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.