New Antarctic wharf ready for Sir David Attenborough polar research ship

A new £40 million wharf to moor the RRS Sir David Attenborough is now up and running at the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera Research Station in Antarctica.

The Cambridge based British Antarctic Survey says it has been used by polar ships for the first time to transport staff and materials back to the UK.

The polar research ship after the naming ceremony in 2019. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA
BAS and BAM crew overlooking the new wharf. Credit: British Antarctic Survey

The seventy four metre long wharf was built by a team of fifty engineers, divers and builders over eighteen months during the Antarctic summers between November and May.

Building the wharf in such a harsh climate provided the team with challenges say the British Antarctic Survey.

Every nut and bolt needed to be accounted for and the construction team practiced full-scale assembly of the 45 tonne steel frames in Southampton to identify unexpected challenges or additional pieces of equipment needed whilst still in the UK.

A vessel departing Rothera Wharf. Credit: David Lan
  • 4,500 tonnes of equipment was shipped 11,000 km from the UK to Antarctica.

  • 2,000 tonnes of snow needed to be cleared in November to make the site operational.

  • 20 huge steel frames weighing over 1,000 tonnes in total make up the skeleton of the structure.

James Clark Ross vessel at the Rothera Wharf. Credit: Tim Page, British Antarctic Survey

The new wharf will mean the RRS Sir David Attenborough can bring vital supplies and people to the Rothera Research Station. It will also mean the station can run more efficiently with a new crane to launch small science boats, a personnel gangway and a floating pontoon to deploy scientific instruments.

The new wharf is part of the long-term Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP), commissioned by the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) National Environment Research Council (NERC), which aims to keep the UK at the forefront of climate, biodiversity and ocean research.

The wharf’s equipment will be formally commissioned and accepted later this year.

The public had wanted to call the Polar research ship Boaty McBoatface, but it was instead named after Sir David Attenborough.

During the naming ceremony Sir David said it was an "astonishing" ship.