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A tent for Antarctic conditions

Installation Spotlight | December 1, 2019 | By:

A tent designed for Antarctic conditions allows researchers to work through cold temperatures and high winds.

The Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin−Madison deploys field research teams to Casey Station, a permanent base and outpost on the eastern coast of Antarctica, from September to March. While studying atmospheric changes, the research team takes ice core samples using a drill supported by a tripod frame. 

Fabricon LLC, Missoula, Mont., designed and constructed a tent for a research team that takes ice core samples in Antarctica. Photos by Tanner Kuhl, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The drill sites are remote, and weather can be severe. Because of the conditions they encounter, team members desired a shelter that would allow them to work regardless of the weather. Researchers turned to Fabricon LLC of Missoula, Mont., to design and fabricate a tent large enough to contain a two- to three-person crew and all of the team’s equipment, including the drill’s 20-foot-tall tripod frame. The structure needed to be light, simple, quickly deployable and designed to handle 60-knot winds and heavy snow loads. Researchers travel to the sites on snowmobiles towing small sleds loaded with equipment and supplies, so the tent components needed to be able to be transported that way too.  

In designing the tent, Fabricon employed a split bale ring to support and tension the fabric from the top of the membrane. The fabric was suspended to two opposing symmetrical arches supported by two smaller door arches, forming a conical hypar with wings. 

Guy ropes attached to points on the membrane and bale ring. The ropes were pinned down to the ice, and snow piled onto a large exterior skirt provided additional ballast.

The tent worked well for the research team, as Tanner Kuhl, project team leader, expressed in an email to designers: “Just returned to email access at the Australian’s Casey Station on the east coast of Antarctica. Had a very successful season ice coring at Law Dome. All project objectives were accomplished, despite high winds and heavy snowfall. The new tent performed very well overall. It would have been impossible to get the work done without it. It was extremely comfortable to work in and handled the 60-plus knot winds without an issue, except for a bit of drift getting in under the skirt at times.” 

Project Notes

Fabric: WeatherMAX® 80 by Safety Components
Project management, design and fabrication: Mark Welander, MFC, Fabricon LLC, Missoula, Mont.
Engineering: J. David Bowick, P.Eng., Blackwell Structural Engineers, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This project was a submission in the Tent Manufacturing category in the 2019 International Achievement Awards.

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