by Frederike Berg
Stair tower assembly at -46 degrees Celsius
The title of the southernmost stair tower on our planet clearly goes to our RINGSCAFF stair tower at the Kohnen Station of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Antarctica. What special task it fulfils and how it got there in the first place, you can read in part 1 and part 2 of our report.
In the meantime, the expedition crew and the stair tower have arrived safely at the research station in the inland ice. The infrastructure has already been set up and the first maintenance and research work has been carried out. Now the team is facing the next important step: the assembly of the stair tower in the drilling trench. And that at - 46 degrees inside the trench.
The assembly of the stair tower begins
The depth of the trench is now about 10 metres - a full 4 metres more than when it was originally built. To ensure that the research team can continue to reach the trench and drilling hole safely, the RINGSCAFF stair tower from Scafom-rux is now being used. It can be successively adjusted in height and, with its simple handling and robust material design, guarantees problem-free assembly even in extreme sub-zero temperatures.
To get the stair tower into the drilling trench in the first place, the team had to create openings for it. To do this, they cleared the snow from the upper roof, cut the roof open on both levels and supported it from below. An inspection and repair of the foundation was also done.
Now it was time to recall the skills learned months ago on the premises of the Scafom-rux Germany headquarters, thousands of kilometres away, and to assemble the first segment of the RINGSCAFF stair tower. The weather conditions were ideal for this. In Antarctica this means clear skies, little wind, temperatures outside the trench around -36° Celsius, inside the trench around -46° Celsius. At these temperatures, the team naturally avoided touching the cold steel with their bare hands and the team members who were to build the stair tower were additionally secured. Now a small but significant advantage became apparent: because the team only started building the stair tower after a few weeks on the station they had become accustomed to the temperatures. Wrapping up in the thickest available overalls was no longer necessary. This gave them much more freedom of movement.
For reasons of space, the base of the stair tower was first assembled outside. This meant that the team didn’t have to bring all the material did down to the bottom of the trench and then work their way up in a relatively cramped space. After completion, the first segment of the stair tower was lowered into the drilling trench. A snow groomer was used as a crane for this. The rock-hard snow walls also had to be corrected somewhat with chainsaws at first. Then the stair tower segment was aligned - yes, indeed spirit levels can be used even in Antarctic temperatures! - and brought into the desired position. Then the stair tower was built up to the edge of the trench. Only the components had to be wedged in place and the assembly was complete: the stair tower could now be used as a stable and safe access to the drilling trench.
Back to warmer climes
February 2022: atmosphere of depature at Kohnen Station. The Antarctic summer was slowly but surely saying goodbye. From then on, it will be so cold at the station that the required machines could only be operated with a very high effort. The next Arctic summer begins in November and then the drilling will be continue.
The departure arrangements also include the partial dismantling of the stair tower. This had to be done to the extent that the roof above it could be closed again, so the drifting snow of the coming winter is prevented from getting inside. In the coming season, a third roof will be installed to relieve the current roof. Then the stair tower will be further extended - to a provisional total height of about 14 metres.
Despite a difficult season dominated by bad weather, many scientific, logistical and technical projects were carried out and successfully completed at the station. And the fact that a stair tower, which under normal circumstances would be considered relatively unspectacular, can now do its useful service in the name of science in Antarctica, naturally makes our Scafom-rux team immensely happy. Holger Schubert thanked us again personally in an email: "(...) for the delivered material and the friendly support. Many thanks also to all the colleagues who carried out the scaffolding material training with us. They put a lot of effort and patience into it. The advice and tips were very helpful and made our work much easier. The Scafom-rux hoodies we were given also kept us very nice and warm in extreme conditions."
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