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ArcelorMittal helping us gain a better understanding of our planet

Construction has begun on a new wharf at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Rothera Research Station, and Z sections from ArcelorMittal Europe – Long Products Sheet Piling are playing a leading role. The new wharf will be used to berth the RRS Sir David Attenborough. Commissioned by NERC, built by Cammel Laird for operation by BAS, this is one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world. Construction of the wharf is being carried out onsite and will take two years to complete.

The British Antarctic Survey has a rich history of conducting scientific research at the earth’s southern pole. Since their first ship arrived in 1947, specialised vessels have allowed BAS to access remote areas that would not be possible otherwise.

The commissioning of the RRS Sir David Attenborough is part of the United Kingdom’s polar infrastructure investment programme. It is designed to keep Britain at the forefront of world-leading research in one of the most inhospitable regions on earth.

Research at the ends of the earth

Launched in 2018, the RRS Sir David Attenborough will commence sea trials in autumn 2019. The vessel will enable scientists to research oceans, ice, and the atmosphere. This floating, multidisciplinary research platform will give them access to state-of-the-art facilities including a scientific moon pool and containerised laboratories.

At almost 129 metres, the new vessel is much longer than its predecessors. That has necessitated the building of a new wharf at Rothera Research Station. BAM Nuttall, a leading construction and civil engineering company, is demolishing the existing wharf and constructing its larger replacement.

ArcelorMittal and BAM Nuttall worked closely on the design of the new wharf. The quay wall is made up of 200 sheet piles which are connected to a steel structure. Every pile has several holes for connections which are placed in different locations across the sheets, making each one unique. Fundamental to this close partnership is ArcelorMittal Sheet Piling’s ability to offer a complete solution, comprising engineering design support, further fabrication and customisation, and bespoke logistics.

The AZ®-piles selected for the quay wall have excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Weight was an issue as the sheet piles had to be shipped more than 11,000 kilometres to the site. Handling on site was also a consideration. AZ®-piles are made from 100% recycled steel, helping to keep the total carbon footprint of the project down.

Prefabrication before shipping

ArcelorMittal and BAM Nuttall decided to pre-fabricate the sheet piles in the UK due to adverse weather conditions in the Antarctic. This meant that work normally done on site, such as welding and fitting of brackets, had to be carried out before the sheet piles were shipped.

The sheet piles arrived at Rothera in January 2019 after a month at sea. Demolition of the existing wharf also began in January and the first frames for the new wharf were installed in March. As work can only take place during the polar summer, the wharf is not expected to be fully operational until mid-2020.

When it is complete, the new wharf will allow polar research ships such as the RRS Sir David Attenborough to continue scientific investigation into deep-sea biology, seafloor geology, and climate change. Working in co-ordination with autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and other equipment, the ship will enable scientists to capture, analyse, and share data that will give us a better understanding of our planet. It will also provide essential evidence to help policymakers determine what action we must take to protect the earth.

© Sergey Tarasenko /

Banner image: © robert mcgillivray /