Camp Century

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The Cold War led to some wild projects, like Camp Century, a nuclear-powered research center, built just 800 miles from the North Pole, on a 6,000-foot high plateau in Greenland, where temperatures reached –70°F and winds reached 125 mph:

Construction started June 1959 and was completed October 1960. The completed project cost $7,920,000, which included the $5,700,000 cost of the portable nuclear power plant. Maximum use was made of snow as a building material. Camp Century utilized a “cut-and-cover” trenching technique. Long ice trenches were created by Swiss made “Peter Plows”, which were giant rotary snow milling machines. The machine’s two operators could move up to 1200 cubic yards of snow per hour. The longest of the twenty-one trenches was known as “Main Street.” It was over 1100 feet long and 26 feet wide and 28 feet high. The trenches were covered with arched corrugated steel roofs which were then buried with snow. Prefabricated wood work buildings and living quarters were erected in the resulting snow tunnels. Each seventy-six foot long electrically heated barrack contained a common area and five 156 square foot rooms. Several feet of airspace was maintained around each building to minimize melting. To further reduce heat build-up, fourteen inch diameter “air wells” were dug forty feet down into the tunnel floors to introduce cooler air. Nearly constant trimming of the tunnel walls and roofs was found to be necessary to combat snow deformation. [...] Maintaining the tunnels at Camp Century required time-consuming and laborious trimming and removal of more than 120 tons of snow and ice each month. Camp Century was abandoned for good in 1966. The Greenland icecap, in constant motion, would completely destroy all the tunnels over the course of several years.

I can only imagine the How I Spent My Summer Vacation essays that resulted from this:

On August 30, 1960, two Boy Scouts were selected to serve as “Junior Scientific Aides” at Camp Century, upon invitation of the Army Engineers. Their job was to assist the engineers and scientists at Camp Century. The two chosen were Kent Goering, of Neodesha, Kansas and Soren Gregersen of Korsor, Denmark. Goering and Gregersen were selected from the many top Scouts who applied. Beginning in October of 1960, they spent five months living and working in the city under the ice. Goering stressed that the principal lesson he learned was “how to live with others and myself, in isolation, at close quarters, every minute of every day for months.” Gregersen, who spent two consecutive summers at Camp Century, described his time there as a great personal experience, and one that most likely influenced his career choice of geophysics.

You simply must watch the video:

(Hat tip to io9.)

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