Brazil to inaugurate new Antarctica research base, but funding worries persist

. Mar 26, 2019
Antarctica Base Brazil ferraz Brazil's Antarctica Base Brazil

Brazilian researchers in Antarctica have reason to celebrate, as the country is close to inaugurating a new state of the art scientific research base on King George Island. The project, costing just under USD 100 million and built by Chinese state-owned company CEIEC, is entering its final stages and is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Nearly all of the physical structures have been built, and project commissioning tests are underway, with the new Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station expected to house researchers and Navy officers by the start of next summer.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The 4,500 square-meter facility was designed by Curitiba-based architecture firm Estúdio 41 and contains a total of 17 laboratories and lodging for 64 people. The project posed significant logistical challenges, as the base needs to withstand extremely low temperatures, frozen soil, potential seismic tremors, and hurricane-force winds of up to 200 kilometers per hour.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The new Antarctic Station has been built to replace the previous Comandante Ferraz base, which was destroyed in a fire in 2012. A blaze began around the site&#8217;s generators and caused extensive damage, killing two members of the Navy and resulting in BRL 24.6 million in damages. A Navy sergeant was <a href="">convicted of involuntary manslaughter</a> for his involvement in the disaster, being sentenced to two years in prison in 2016.</span></p> <div id="attachment_15092" style="width: 1034px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-15092" class="size-large wp-image-15092" src="" alt="fire ferraz base" width="1024" height="615" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1086w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><p id="caption-attachment-15092" class="wp-caption-text">The Comandante Ferraz base was destroyed by a 2012 fire</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The new facility will be situated in the same location as the previous site: the Keller Peninsula on King George Island, part of the South Shetland archipelago and the closest body of Antarctic land to the southern tip of South America.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Plans to rebuild the Comandante Ferraz base have been in progress since the fire, with the Brazilian government launching an invitation for proposals in late 2013 for domestic construction firms. The contract received no bids, however, and the government opened the tender to foreign companies the following year. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Chinese state-owned company CEIEC was awarded the USD 99.6 million contract and pledged to complete the works by early 2018. Taking into account the harsh, inhospitable conditions of King George Island, a year&#8217;s delay was entirely probable. Before taking on this project, CEIEC&#8217;s construction jobs largely consisted of infrastructure in post-civil war Angola.</span></p> <h2>Research at the End of the World</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station was (and will be once more) the base of the Brazilian Antarctic Program (Proantar), a wing of the Navy created in 1982 which coordinates research in the continent of Antarctica.</span></p> <p><iframe src="" width="640" height="480"></iframe></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Promoting studies into oceanography, biology, and glaciology—among other areas—Proantar was left briefly homeless after the 2012 fire, but the Navy quickly constructed temporary structures to house researchers. A year-round presence on the continent is one of the requirements for Brazil to retain voting rights in the Antarctic Treaty of 1959.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The new station will have access to high-speed internet, television, and mobile 4G technology—still a rarity in the Antarctic. </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Telecommunications company Oi </span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">installed the infrastructure earlier this year, having already provided the telephony services at the base back in 2006.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Oi had promised to provide the station with broadband internet and television some time ago, but the project stalled when the company filed for court-supervised reorganization in 2016. A deal was later struck that Oi would be allowed to pay its fines in installments in return for completing the internet and television infrastructure works on the Antarctic base.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Such communications technology is of utmost importance to researchers, as besides facilitating contact with their loved ones back in Brazil, high-speed internet also allows for the sending and receiving of large amounts of data used for research projects.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Furthermore, this increased communication capacity with the outside world will improve the medical care of those stationed at the base. Currently, there is only one general medical professional posted at Comandante Ferraz, and improved internet capability will allow for specialist opinions via </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">telemedicine</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <h2>Funding woes in Antarctica</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the inauguration of a brand-new base appears to be a wholly positive piece of news for Brazil&#8217;s scientific researchers in Antarctica, there are fears that inconsistent and insufficient funding for their projects could bring the field to collapse.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 2018, Proantar addressed a letter to then-Minister of Science and Technology Gilberto Kassab explaining the struggles of the Antarctica research team due to a lack of funds. In the four years preceding its complaint, the science department of the agency received a total of only BRL 8.5 million in funding.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The pressure was enough to make the government free up BRL 18 million in resources until 2021, but the oscillation in funding has kept researchers in constant fear of cuts.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Jefferson Simões, Brazil&#8217;s leading glaciologist, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">told</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> newspaper </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Folha de S. Paulo</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that the BRL-18-million injection was &#8220;the salvation&#8221; of Brazilian research in the Antarctic. &#8220;But four years from now, no one knows what will happen.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A total of 17 research projects are currently in progress at the Comandante Ferraz station, focusing largely on issues related to climate change and biology. There is also a study underway by the Fluminense Federal University to investigate the effects of isolation and confinement on the human psyche.

Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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