Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Project Size:
70,000 SF
Popular Science Magazine's Best of What's New for 2007 in Engineering
Eathan Dicks, Peter Rejcek, Martin Lewis, Dwight Bohnet, Brien Barnett, Josh Landis, Jill Marie Fox, National Science Foundation

Completed in 2010, the new Amundsen-Scott station is strategically situated at the geographic South Pole, at an elevation of 2,800 meters. The station sits on a 2700-meter-thick glacier that moves with a velocity of 11 meters per year. It is one of the premier remote facilities of its kind in the world.

Built to accommodate the National Science Foundation’s Polar Research Programs, the station needed to be designed such that all construction components could fit in the cargo bay of a ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft and flown from McMurdo Station to the Pole.

To prevent burial by annual snow drift, the station is elevated three meters off the surface and its windward face is chamfered similar to an airplane wing. The unique design works by increasing wind speed above and below the station, effectively scouring drifting snow by preventing it from settling until it is well beyond the station on the downwind side. Outboard columns conceal jacking systems which allow the whole station to be raised periodically, keeping it above the plateau that continues to gain elevation at a rate of 0.2 meter per year.

A city in miniature, including a NASA-designed plant-growth chamber for fresh food production, the station accommodates a population of 150 during the four-month austral summer and 50 during the eight-month winter isolation period.

Sustainable Design Strategies:

  • All heating is provided by jacket cooling and exhaust gas heat exchangers at the primary diesel power plant.
  • Alternative energy systems use wind and solar power providing up to 14% of the station’s power requirements.
  • Good indoor air quality is ensured by specification of low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, adhesives, caulking compounds, and insulation.
  • All water is derived from the surrounding ice field and strictly rationed.
  • Existing buildings were dismantled and reconstructed to reduce retrograde and waste generation.
  • New buildings are sited to dramatically reduce snow plowing, which had accounted for a major portion of the station’s fuel usage.
  • All building systems were designed to reduce waste in the shipping and construction process.
  • All waste materials are processed and returned to the continental U.S for disposal.
  • To double its useful life, the building can be raised above the snow surface as required with a unique jackable column system.
  • Specifications preclude environmental destructive materials as described by the Antarctic Treaty.