Updated Plans for McMurdo Station Modernization
Safety of Work Crews and Support Staff is Key
August 4, 2020
Planned construction projects at McMurdo Station will be temporarily put on hiatus in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
To ensure the safety of the work crews and support staff in Antarctica, the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program has decided that there will be no AIMS-related construction in McMurdo during the 2020-2021 austral summer season.
Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science, known as AIMS, is a major, multi-year reconstruction of large portions of McMurdo Station's aging infrastructure. The project will ultimately reshape the face of the largest U.S. Antarctic research station, consolidating many disparate work centers into a single facility to reduce operating costs and increase overall efficiency.
The construction work on the station kicked off in 2019, with efforts to clear space for planned new structures. Over the 2019-2020 austral summer season, work crews demolished several warehouses where the future Vehicle Equipment Operations Center will be located, and partially tore down one of the residence dormitories. Work crews had planned to finish deconstructing the dorm and move onto further demolition and site preparation work through the austral winter. However, these plans were cut short when the work teams were brought home early in March and April because of COVID-19 safety concerns.
The safety of the researchers and support staff working at the Antarctic research stations is paramount. Currently, Antarctica is the only continent with no cases of COVID-19, and keeping it that way is the top priority for the National Science Foundation. To minimize potential exposure, the NSF is significantly reducing the total number of people it's sending to the continent this upcoming season to the bare minimum. In a recent announcement, the NSF laid out the plan for the 2020-2021 season, which includes scaling back the number of scientists and research projects sent down, reducing the overall amount of support staff ccordingly and pushing off construction for a year.
Despite the onsite construction hiatus, efforts continue within the continental United States to move the project forward. Efforts this year will focus this year on fabricating steel and concrete materials domestically that will be transported from the United States to Antarctica on McMurdo Station's annual cargo vessel in early 2021. Staging these materials in McMurdo will enable the construction effort to move forward as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.
In addition, the primary construction contractor Leidos was recently awarded $11 million to perform lodging facility construction services.