Skip to main content

Polar explorers of the St. Petersburg Mining University spoke about the new residential complex of the Vostok research station in Antarctica

© Санкт-Петербургский горный университет

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin put the new wintering complex of Vostok station into trial operation via video link. It is 1,200 kilometres from the nearest coast and is located on a lifeless ice plateau at an altitude of over three and a half kilometres.

Previously, scientists who conduct research there and test unique technologies in the most unfavourable climatic conditions had to live in outdated, both morally and physically, buildings. Now they have at their disposal, without any exaggeration, a modern building, impressive both for its futuristic architecture and size, and for the technical solutions that were used during its design and construction.

Obviously, this is a unique project that embodies all the advanced solutions in the field of ergonomics. But what specific positive changes have taken place in the everyday life and workplaces of polar explorers? Representatives of the Empress Catherine II Saint Petersburg Mining University, who spent several seasons in Antarctica, told Forpost that one of the most important differences of the new station is that it stands on hydraulic jacks. And it rises above the snowdrifts by about three metres.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Данил Сербин

"The old building was covered with snow all the time and we constantly had to clear it. Of course, we are not against physical exertion, but in conditions of constant oxygen starvation due to low atmospheric pressure, it wears you out much faster and harder than usual. Now the snow will fly under the station instead of accumulating near the walls. It will still have to be removed, as the supports will create resistance to the wind, albeit minimal, but it is clear that it will take much less time," said Danil Serbin, a leading engineer at the university.

The maximum capacity of the new wintering complex is 35 people, while the old one could accommodate no more than twelve. Therefore, during the Antarctic summer, i.e. from December to February, when the participants of the seasonal team came to Vostok, there were not enough places for everyone. Many polar explorers had to live in other buildings scattered around the territory of the station, even less adapted to the conditions of the White Continent. It was uncomfortable not only because of the lack of basic amenities, but also because of periodic problems with logistics. The weather at the cold pole is not always favourable for movement between buildings, but now this problem is a thing of the past.

© Форпост Северо-Запад

"I think every person who has been to the East will agree with me and confirm that a very important household change has been the availability of a shower room. Previously, we used to wash and warm ourselves exclusively in the bathhouse, on Saturdays. The new concept was made possible by the water purification and recovery system. As before, we get it from snow, but the automation now allows us to reuse part of the waste water for technical needs," emphasised Vyacheslav Kadochnikov, a leading engineer at Mining University.

He explained that previously, in order to heat a bathhouse or get drinking water, one had to first manually drag snow into the so-called "melting pans" - special containers with a volume of one cubic metre with heaters inside. There was neither time nor energy left after a tiring working day on the rig and scientific research, which young people were engaged in additionally, as an elective. So in theory the polar explorers could well arrange an additional bathing day on a Wednesday or Thursday, but in reality it happened very rarely. No one wanted to wear snow more and more, against the background of fatigue.

Now everything has changed. The snow is delivered to the "melting pits", the size of which has become much larger, by a mechanical loader. As well as other luggage. For this purpose, the complex is equipped with a lift. By the way, the building itself is three-storeyed, so there is enough space not only for comfortable accommodation of polar explorers, but also for numerous common areas - billiard room, a small gym, a room for playing table tennis, a modern medical block. In addition, space has been allocated for the future laboratory.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Данил Сербин и на побережье Антарктиды, вблизи станции Прогресс

"The thickness of insulation in the walls, floor and roof of the new complex is about 95 millimetres. Along with the presence of an air heating system and two duplicate independent power centres with a capacity of 800 KW each, this allows the station to provide a comfortable temperature inside even if it is freezing outside at minus 100 degrees Celsius. However, such a scenario is unlikely. Despite the fact that it was in the East that the lowest air temperature on the planet was recorded for the entire history of meteorological observations, it was still slightly lower - minus 89", - said Danil Serbin.

Other modern technologies are being tested in the East or will be tested in the near future. For example, solar panels are planned to be delivered there next season and integrated into the existing energy system. This is quite logical, because in summer (i.e. now) Antarctica has a round-the-clock polar day, so the rays of light, weather permitting, can fall on photovoltaic cells 24 hours a day.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / На фото: Вячеслав Кадочников на побережье Антарктиды, вблизи станции Прогресс

"The new complex is, without any exaggeration, characterised by the highest level of automation. In this regard, the entire staff has already undergone or will soon undergo additional professional training. I am sure that this building will become a cosy home for all those who live in it for many decades to come. And this will have the most favourable effect on the efficiency of work of Russian scientists and engineers in Antarctica", - Vyacheslav Kadochnikov summed up.

It should be noted that now the participants of the seasonal group of polar explorers have already left Vostok and are at another Russian station - Progress, located on the coast of the continent. The conditions of stay there are not much better - the air temperature at this time of year is around zero, no one suffers from hypoxia, as this location is at sea level, during walks one can observe numerous flocks of penguins, skuas and groups of seals. After a month and a half of staying on a lifeless ice plateau, not far from the South Pole, such landscapes, according to representatives of the St. Petersburg Mining University, evoke special emotions.

© Санкт-Петербургский горный университет