Located at S 72°40 W 2°51 in the Queen Maud Land region of Eastern or Greater Antarctica, SANAE IV is on top of a distinctive flat-topped nunatak, Vesleskarvet, on the fringe of the Ahlmann Range of mountains. The base is approximately 80km from the edge of the continent (also known as the grounding line or hinge zone) and 160km from the edge of the ice shelf. Vesleskarvet is completely surrounded by the glacial ice sheet.
The first three SANAE research stations were located on the Fimbul Ice Shelf near to the coast, and were subject to the gradual snow burial and eventual crushing that occurs with all stations constructed in this fashion. With a vision of creating a more permanent station, SANAE IV was completed in 1997 using a design which was revolutionary at the time - a structure raised on stilts which allows snow to blow through underneath and thus limits deposition.
By constructing the base near the cliffs of Vesleskarvet, the concept was advanced further: snow that would collect downwind of the base and eventually advance to cover it is instead blown off the 250m high cliffs into the wind-scoop beyond. By virtue of this clever design, the station should far exceed the short useful life of it's predecessors, and the raised design has since been applied to newer stations, such as the British Antarctic Survey's new Halley Research Station and Germany's new Neumayer III.
SANAE IV consists of three linked modules, each double-story, 44m long and 14m wide. Two smaller nearby structures contain the satellite dish used for communications and the diesel fuel bunkers. Joined end-on-end in a north-south orientation, the base modules are complemented on the northern end by a large raised helicopter landing area with a lifting section allowing vehicles to be brought up into the hangar for maintenance.
C-block, the northern-most module, contains the large hangar, generator room, workshop, water storage, sewage processing plant, equipment stores, offices of the mechanical and electrical engineers, flight operations office, gymnasium and sauna. The neutron monitors are also housed in this area.
B-block, the middle module, contains the kitchen, dining area, two TV lounges, bar, games room, smoker's room, library, a laundry and accommodation units.
A-block, the southern module, contains the radio room and communications hub, medical facility, darkroom, various research project offices, leader's office, two physics labs, wet lab, store-rooms, another laundry, and accommodation units.
The modules are linked by single-story connections that also serve as entrances with stairways down to the surface 4m below the base. Each link contains an entrance hall with two sets of doors (creating a rudimentary 'air-lock' to prevent excessive cooling when entering and exiting the base) as well as a change-room, ablution facility and electronic distribution boards.
The base generates power using three diesel generators. Water is generated by manually shovelling snow into a snow smelter, which then melts the snow and ice and pumps water automatically into the holding tanks. Waste water and sewerage is treated within the base, with the only by-product being clean water which is then released back into the environment. All refuse is sorted, crushed and sealed in empty fuel drums for return to South Africa.
Although the base is well insulated by its half-meter thick walls and triple-glazed windows, the internal areas have to be actively warmed. This is accomplished by three means. Firstly, the heat generated by the diesel generators is used to heat water for the taps and showers, which is then circulated through the base. Secondly, the same generator heat is used to heat air which is distributed by the climate control system. Thirdly, small electric wall and fan heaters are available in all indoor areas. Efforts are made to maintain the interior temperature at 18°C, although some areas (such as the hangar) do cool well below this in winter.
SANAE IV has advanced communications capabilities using both satellite and radio systems. A permanent satellite connection to the SANAP headquarters in Cape Town provides three telephone lines and one fax line, and near-broadband internet access. Team members in Antarctica enjoy fast internet access which allows them to correspond with colleagues and stay in contact with friends and family.
The base is staffed and maintained year-round by a team of scientists and support personnel. Each overwintering team arrives during the summer expedition and take-over period aboard the research and logistics vessel SA Agulhas, stays at the base through the austral winter and returns to South Africa at the end of the next summer season - an expedition of approximately 16 months. The summer expedition and re-supply team (excluding ship's crew) consists of 80-100 persons, and includes administrative staff, heavy vehicle operators, helicopter crew, maintenance staff, the new overwintering team and a large scientific contingent. During the brief summer (typically December/January to February/March) the base must be resupplied with food, equipment and fuel, all waste products must be removed for transport back to South Africa, the new overwintering team must receive on-site training, and scientific investigations which cannot be undertaken in the winter months (such as extended field-work) must be completed.
The overwintering team remains at the base alone and isolated between the months of March and December. To be fully self-sufficient, the team typically consists of the following personnel:
An expedition leader is selected from the overwintering team prior to the departure of the expedition, and a deputy elected to serve in his place should the need arise. The expedition leader is responsible for administrative tasks and reports to the South African National Antarctic Programme headquarters in South Africa.
SANAE IV's reason for existence is to provide a permanent year-round base for scientists undertaking research projects under the auspices of SANAP. Investigations carried-out year-round are predominantly in the physical sciences, while the summer months allow research in more diverse fields such as oceanography, biology, geology and geomorphology. Recent projects have also focussed on sources of renewable energy such as solar and particularly wind power generation. There is not currently any formal medical research being undertaken.
Ongoing physical science research programs includes the Antarctic Magnetospheric and Ionospheric Ground-based Observation (AMIGO), Southern Hemisphere Auroral Radar Experiment (SHARE) and Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN), Antarctic Research on Cosmic Rays (ANOKS), very low frequency (VLF) radio research and various International Polar Year projects.
Detailed information about the research projects may be found under the research section of the SANAP webpage
This page is under active construction (August 2008) and will be updated with pictures and further information soon.
A flying visit to the land of ice; Hats off to our compatriots and their international colleagues who live and work in Antarctica, writes Mosibudi Mangena.(News)
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