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Morrison squad head for Antarctic fixture

A MORRISON Construction team will face some of the harshest conditions on Earth when it departs for the wastes of Antarctica on a six-month mission in December.

The British Antarctica Survey (BAS) has awarded the firm a £2.2 million contract to build a new research laboratory at the Rothera Research Station and Morrison is sending a 22-man squad out to oversee the 20-week project.

The team of British workers departs in November on the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross for the 8,200 mile trip to Antarctica, arriving at the Research station in December.

Morrison has been working for the BAS since 1999 and Peter Willmott, a veteran of four previous Antarctic trips, will project manage the scheme.

John Hammerton, Morrison Construction's regional manager for the South Atlantic division, said: 'The problems are mainly psychological, such as living in a confined space with different backgrounds.

'You can't get away from anybody because you're living in a room with four bunk beds, so privacy is the one thing that gets very important.'

He added: 'If someone gets in a negative mood it can quickly affect the rest of the group. People start drinking and it leads to anti-social behaviour.'

The only contact the workers will have with the outside world is email, although there is one satellite phone link available for emergencies.

In the Antarctic summer, workers will face temperatures of -5 deg C. This means the foundations of the laboratory will have to be pre-cast before departure because in these conditions concrete freezes before it cures.

The team will also have to drill through thick layers of rock-hard permafrost to make sure the foundations are sunk down below the melting level.

Mr Hammerton said: 'This is an extremely tight logistical operation because we have to take all our materials and equipment with us. There's no builders' merchant nearby if we forget anything.'

The team aims to finish the biology, geoscience and atmospheric science centre in April 2003.