Environmental Affairs launches first South African Antarctica Season Week

Event date: 
2018-12-03 08:00 to 2018-12-07 21:00


About South African Antarctica Season Week
About the Development of the new Antarctic Centre


About South African Antarctica Season Week

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in partnership with the Transnet National Port Authority(TNPA), will be launching the first ever South African Antarctica Season Week on 03 December 2018 at the Cruise Terminal in the Port of Cape Town.

Antarctica Week will take place from 03 to 07 December 2018, and the activities will include exhibitions to the guests, schools and the public; science discussions; heritage presentations; stakeholder engagements; etc.

The DEA has identified TNPA, Port of Cape Town as the location of a new Antarctic Centre, which will be built to enhance the country’s role as an Antarctic Gateway. The centre will support the promotion of the Antarctic continent and its various economic opportunities for South Africa.

The centre, which fits within the department’s Antarctic Strategy, will be announced at the launch which will also mark the departure of the SA Agulhas II for its annual Antarctic relief voyage and the start of the annual Norwegian-South Africa seminar and exhibition, ending 7 December 2018.


Background discussion: South Africa as a gateway country and creating public awareness

The Port of Cape Town has been prominent in visits by vessels of explorers, on their way to Antarctica, and more recently by those performing research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Captain James Cook’s vessel was in the Port of Cape Town from October to December 1772, and again from January to March 1775. The British polar explorer Ernest Shackleton visited the Port in 1901. Captain Robert Scott also called at the Port during his attempt to get to the South Pole in 1910.

In the last 50 years the focus has changed from exploration and whaling to scientific endeavour. A successful Antarctic programme requires means to cross thousands of kilometres of the world’s stormiest seas, to navigate through Antarctica’s formidable sea ice barrier, and to live and work for extended periods on the coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth.

Currently eleven “parallel” and “independent” Programmes of various countries depart for Antarctica from Cape Town using vessels and aircraft for various destinations on the Antarctica continent. They transport personnel and equipment to and from scientific bases as well as for tourism purposes. They are Norway, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom, Japan, India, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and South Africa.

Such programmes procure supplies such as fuel, protective clothing, equipment and food in Cape Town. They also use South Africa based Ships’ Agencies for services such as “forwarding” “clearing” and “logistics”. Thus the programmes contribute to the economy of the country.

Other countries such as Australia have a network of members that provide advice, assistance and referrals to business and organisations that understand polar conditions. For this purpose, there exists a secretariat which is a single point of contact for all Antarctica-related business enquiries, offering clients effortless connections to private businesses, educational institutions, research bodies a

Success in polar policies and research will in future be determined by good quality collaborations. The eleven countries that leave for Antarctica from Cape Town utilising both the Port of Cape Town and Cape Town International Airport provide a great opportunity for closer collaboration with them in them in logistics, science, and in heightening the awareness of South Africans and other Africans of the Antarctica and sub Antarctic islands.

The South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) that manages the nation’s activities in Antarctica and sub-Antarctic islands has been experiencing difficulties in recruiting (i) personnel that “overwinter” and thus keep the bases operational, e.g. engineers, doctors and technicians, and (ii) a larger pool of scientists required to carry out a diversity of focused research projects.


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About the Development of the new Antarctic Centre


A recent study by one of DEA Staff members has confirmed that the awareness of South Africans is very low, probably the lowest of other Gateway countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina. This is the case in spite of the huge investment that has been made by South Africa. It is for the above reasons that an Antarctic Centre has been proposed for South Africa, and specifically for Cape Town.

Vision / objectives

The Antarctic Centre is being conceived as an education, scientific research and outreach facility that is a tourism focal point for local and international Antarctica enthusiasts, and those who simply want to enjoy and Antarctica experience and learn.


In relation to the African continent, the place is South Africa, a gateway country to Antarctica. The Place has a virtual manifestation as well as a physical expression in a built environment cluster of facilities located in Cape Town.

Cape Town harbours one of the most efficient ports on the African continent. The port is nested in a unique and enviable position between the great, blue sea and the Table Mountain.

After a great deal of reflection, the location at the end of South Arm Road was identified as the most ideal location for such a precinct. The fresh produce terminal will fade and give way to new functionalities. New possibilities will emerge for South Arm Road.

The decision to prefer the end of South Arm Road was supported by an urban design thought that envisions the development of a South Arm Boulevard abutted by day-night hospitality establishments whose activities spill out into the street space – a safe, walkable, well lit space and corridor of commercial activity.

A conceptual design of the facility based on a slightly deviant space programme was developed some time back. Upon TNPA’s approval of the location, a detailed planning exercise will be embarked upon and space requirements may fall.


The main elements of the facility will be as follows:

  • An Antarctic Centre
  • The Polaris Climate Change Observatory developed and funded by the International Polar Foundation.

The Antarctic Centre

The Antarctic Centre will be a facility whose users will be country Antarctic programmes, the scientific research fraternity, the local community and tourists. It will incorporate and Antarctic Experience Centre that has taken some lessons from the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand as well as from Polaria in Trømso, Norway. It will be visited, among others, by school groups on educational tours. It will comprise the following:

  • Educational infrastructure including a state of the art cinema, a lecture space and educational cubicles;
  • An experience centre of moulded polar landscapes and Antarctic wildlife for the simulation of Antarctic climatic environment – the dryness, the cold, the storms – will be simulated;
  • Exhibition spaces, some of which have a visual connection to the experience centre, bio-diversity specimens, educational screens and stakeholder exhibition spaces;
  • Office spaces for SA’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean research network, for the country Antarctic programmes that depart from SA, SA secretariats of multilateral organisations and multi-user hot-desking office facilities;
  • Off-season storage of equipment, polar clothing and supplies of the country programmes (not warehousing);
  • A system of outside activity spaces for gatherings, talks and interaction;
  • Commercial facilities including curio shops, hospitality (café, restaurant, internet café, bookshop, etc.); and
  • An access road system and parking.

Our estimation at this moment is that the Antarctic Centre area under roof is 5 500 square metres.

The Polaris Climate Change Observatory

The Polaris Climate Change Observatory (PCCO) is an initiative of the International Polar Foundation with which we are in discussions. The view that it should be in the planned precinct as our facilities complement each other very well seems to be enthusiastically embraced by both sides.

The PCCO aims to inform public perception of the role of science in issues of major social importance. The PCCO is a physical space where the most recent polar research findings can be displayed through innovative and attractive installations, and their global context explained.

The goal of the PCCO is to provide tools for improving public understanding of the mechanisms driving climate change, and possible responses to prevent or adapt to change.

Exploring and understanding the natural workings of the Earth's climate, the PCCO will retrace the evolution of the Earth’s climate, and its possible future. The Observatory will also set out to explain the current drivers of climate change arising from human activities (including industry and agriculture), and how our future actions will depend on our capacity to understand the pace and direction of change.

Navigating the observatory

The Polaris concept begins with the external structure which is in the form of a tabular iceberg, enclosing an exhibition area of 3 000 m², lying over an expanse of water which has to be crossed to gain access to the observatory.

The depiction of the melting ice block is a spatial metaphor for climate change. Each Polaris contains three iconic symbols: the iceberg, the planet and the ice core as recurring themes, linking all Polaris facilities in different locations. As the design currently stands, it is a 3-level facility that consists of a series of exhibition spaces.



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