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Brazil’s new US$100 million Antarctic base, built by China


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Base built on site of previous facility, which was largely razed in a 2012 fire. The new centre consists of 17 laboratories and accommodation for 65 people.

 

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Brazil has inaugurated a new US$100 million Antarctic base, built by Chinese company CEIEC to replace a research station destroyed by fire almost seven years ago.

 

“Brazil is back in the Antarctic with great force,” Science and Technology Minister Marcos Pontes, Brazil’s only astronaut, wrote in a Twitter message from the Comandante Ferraz base on King George Island off the Antarctic peninsula.

 

Pontes said the new 48,375 sq ft facility was bigger and safer, with 17 laboratories, a heliport, and other advances. Scientists will use the base to study microbiology, glaciers, and climate, among other areas.

 

Scientists will use the base to study microbiology, glaciers, and climate, among other areas. Photo: EPA

 

Brazil’s Antarctic programme began in 1982 when the Brazilian Navy acquired a Danish icebreaker and made its first expedition, rushing to become a party to the Antarctic Treaty that would decide the continent’s future.

 

But Brazil’s programme was set back in 2012 when an explosion in the generator room caused a fire that killed two naval officers and destroyed 70 per cent of the building.

 

Beijing-based China National Import & Export Corp (CEIEC), a state-owned company with defence contracts, was selected in 2015 to build the new station, which will be able to house some 65 people.

 

Jefferson Simoes, a Brazilian professor of glaciology and polar geography at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, said Brazil’s presence in Antarctica was both scientific and geopolitical.

 

Brazil has been a full member of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which oversees the continent, since 1975.

 

Part of the new base. Photo: EPA

 

All 54 member countries are entitled to a vote, and a veto, on decisions ranging from environmental preservation to international collaboration. But they must keep an active role on the continent, said Simoes, who attended the inauguration event as vice-president of the international Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

 

The continent is rich in drinkable water and possibly oil and gas. But the 1959 treaty’s environment protocol bans any exploration for natural resources until 2048.

 

Up to 64 people will be able to stay at the base at any given time, and Brazilian scientists will be focusing their research on climate change, geology and biotechnology. In the latter, they are looking for marine microorganisms that could lead to innovations in health or agriculture, through the production of new medicines or pesticides.

 

Brazilian research in Antarctica has not stopped despite the 2012 ire that killed two people and destroyed most of the previous base. The Brazilian ministry of science and technology says it has invested 18 million reais (US$4.3 million) in research in the region over the last few years.

 

The new base is the result of years of research, planning and assembling by Brazilian architecture firm Estudio 41, which won bidding for the project in 2013. Harsh weather during the Antarctic winter meant men could work on-site only four months of the year, between December and March.

 

“We carried out a large study, looking at local weather conditions, wind strengths, and all the solutions that have been developed over the last 15 years,” said Emerson Vidigal, one of the architects on the project. “We noticed that much of the aesthetics in Antarctic architecture ended up answering these climate requirements.”

 

The base’s elevation is one example. The three units rest on pillars a few meters above ground, allowing strong winds to naturally sweep away any accumulation of snow.

Materials were chosen to address extreme cold.

 

The base’s units were assembled in China and then shipped to Antarctica by boat over several years, Vidigal said.

 

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