McMurdo Station is a research facility and logistics hub for Antarctica. Managed by the National Science Foundation, the station has representation from many government and commercial groups. Resupply is critical for a research facility with limited natural resources, so it has relied on ship-delivered cargo annually. Until 1965, materials were offloaded directly onto sea ice. However, an austral summer in 1964-1965 resulted in thin ice, which prevented direct offload. Since then, alternate means have been used. More recently, resupply has been performed with an ice pier, requiring major effort and planning, and it is a potential single point of failure.

An alternative would use thermopiles, a passive cooling technology, to freeze seawater nearshore. The solution proposed by researchers Anna M. Wagner and George Blaisdell would allow bottomfast ice in Winter Quarters Bay to be regrown in deeper water. This would then allow direct ship docking without requiring an ice pier and connector bridge. Their study, “Expedient Sea Ice Infrastructure in a Cold Environment” in the Journal of Cold Regions Engineering uses simulations to estimate time required to artificially create sea ice under different scenarios. Learn more about how this technique could help create a robust docking infrastructure in Antarctic conditions at The abstract is below. 


McMurdo Station, Antarctica, serves as a major scientific and support operations hub for the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). Winter Quarters Bay (WQB) is adjacent to the station, where vessels dock at the southernmost port to unload cargo and fuel. The ice pier at McMurdo is vital to ensure this once-annual vessel resupply. The use of the ice pier requires the deployment of a Bailey bridge, which creates an operating bottleneck for resupply. The occasional breakup of the ice pier, during or immediately after vessel operations, demonstrates a potential point for failure. The feasibility of artificial freezing of seawater using thermopiles (TP; a passive cooling technology) to grow the existing WQB bottomfast ice edge to a point where ships could dock directly will be investigated in this study. The timing to freeze an ice dock depends on the air temperature, TP fin size, the distance between TPs, and the number of TP rows that are engaged simultaneously. The results indicated that to complete a bottomfast ice edge 40 m seaward and 100 m long that was parallel to the shore and adequate for ship docking and offload, it would take from 255 to 820 days. This study shows that TPs could successfully be used to generate a direct docking bottomfast ice wharf at McMurdo and similar locations.

Read the paper in the ASCE Library at