Shetland and Aberdeen based marine engineering, diving and fabrication company, Ocean Kinetics, and consulting civil engineers, Arch Henderson, are to undertake what is thought to be the first underwater welding project of its kind inside the Antarctic Circle for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
The work, which will take place in one of the world’s most severe climates, is to repair a damaged quay which is thought to have been hit by an iceberg at the Rothera Research Station.
Temperatures in Rothera can drop to –20°C in the winter months with an average of 70 days gale force winds in any year. During the summer months, when the repair works will be carried out, the temperature varies between 0°C and 5°C.
Ocean Kinetics and Arch Henderson are working together to repair the quay side which is used by BAS to berth its vessels RRS James Clark Ross and RRS Ernest Shackleton during the summer months.
Arch Henderson, who are based in Aberdeen and has offices throughout Scotland and in the Falklands Islands, was commissioned by BAS to find a solution to repair the quay after a hole appeared on the quay deck, which was found to be a consequence of a split in the corner of the sheet piles.
The repair method devised by Ocean Kinetics and Arch Henderson consists of strapping chains around the corner, which are tensioned against brackets welded to the sheet piles, along with a considerable amount of underwater welding and steel plating work.
Taking cognisance of the remote location and very limited local resources, the chosen method requires minimum plant equipment and can be easily adapted should the damage have become worse throughout the winter.
Michael Fox, Marine Projects Director for Ocean Kinetics, said: "We worked quickly to mobilise and meet the sailing deadline. In that time we fabricated and supplied all the materials needed for the contract and provided all the necessary diving equipment and plant to carry out the works.
"Taking into consideration how remote the location of the project is, we had to send plenty of spare parts along with back up welding sets and generators. If something was to breakdown there it would take weeks, if not months, to ship in a replacement.
"We deployed the plant and dive equipment for the project on a ship on September 8, 2015. However, we won’t be on station until February to carry out the repair works. We have been working with Arch Henderson for more than 20 years and we have built up an excellent working relationship.
"This is an exciting project for both companies and we think we might be the first company to carry out underwater welding in Antarctica."
Arch Henderson, which was established in 1919, worked with Ocean Kinetics to design the solution to repair the quay.
Andy Martin, Partner with Arch Henderson, said: "We are pleased to be working with the British Antarctic Survey. At Arch Henderson we strive to create innovative and cost effective solutions for our clients. It is a very interesting project and our first opportunity to work in the Antarctic."
Ocean Kinetics will be at Rothera for about 12 days. The station, which was established in 1975, is open throughout the year. In summer, the population peaks at just over 100 people. In the winter months, April to mid-October, a team of 22 continues to undertake scientific research and maintain the station infrastructure.