Recycled eco-tent ‘survives’ five-year Antarctica test

The shelter is still standing and usable, half a decade after it was built. 

Named The Polar Lodge, the structure is made from experimental materials, including rugs manufactured from plastic bottles, and yacht sails for the outer skin. For the past five years, it has stood at Collins Glacier on King George Island. 

Average annual air temperatures at the location read -2.8C, falling much lower in the middle of winter, when conditions are at their most unforgiving. Originally designed to last 12 months, it had remained fully in tact,  withstanding winds reaching up to 200km/h, until a fierce storm ripped the external Dyneema cover away late December 2023, meaning an expedition was needed to conduct repairs. 

‘We were amazed to find the tent had withstood the extreme winds of the exposed site for all this time,’ said Heriot-Watt University Emeritus Professor, Sue Roaf, an architectural engineer involved in The Polar Lodge Project. ‘In the extreme cold of Antarctica our assumptions about how buildings work thermally, are often wrong. Which direction should we face the door into? Away from the wind? Wrong answer. That is where the snow accumulates.

‘Much of what matters in terms of thermal performance is invisible. By monitoring temperatures and using thermal imaging cameras we could actually see the strong thermal stratification of air indoors and found that a major cause of cooling indoors is the cold carried by people from the outside,’ she continued. ‘Using advanced wind simulation programmes we could optimise the structure location on the site and appreciate the importance of the protective stone wall facing the prevailing wind.’

The Dyneema layer has now been replaced with a polyethersulfone [PES] solution, which is more durable and should therefore be longer lasting. The team now believe it could survive another ten years, during which time it will continue to be used by researchers working in the region. It also provides a vital refuge in emergency situations. 

‘We had set out to build a portable, temporary shelter for climate change researchers in Antarctica and were really pleased to be able to repair it so effectively with the help of the Portuguese ProPolar team who co-funded the expedition and the logistics support of INACH, the Chilean Antarctic organisation who hosted us,’ added Roaf. 

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Image:  Craig Philip (Heriot-Watt University Team)



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