Currently, the SANAE IV Station is in use, which was completed in1997/8
After Norway’s announcement, during the second half of 1959, that its base (Norway Station) in Queen Maud Land would be evacuated later in that year, and after South Africa had, on 1 December 1959, signed the Antarctic Treaty, together with 11 other countries, the first South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) departed early in December of the same year on the Norwegian ship, the Polarbjorn, to take over the Norwegian base. The ship reached the Antarctic coast near the base on 8 January 1960 and commenced its return voyage 7 days later, after the South Africans had been deployed at the Norwegian base.
The SANAE IV station is built on an outcrop of rock, or nunatak, called “Vesleskarvet” in Dronning Maud Land – (071°40,42′S and 002°50,45′W). The new SANAE IV base is built at Vesleskarvet, 220 km due South of SANAE III.
SANAE I, SANAE II and SANAE III, built on the Fimbul ice shelf near the island of Blaskimen. Built on the moving ice shelf, these stations inevitably got buried and crushed, and eventually broke off as part of icebergs drifting away.
The first SANAE base (SANAE I) was built in 1962, very near the Norway Station. Since any base built on the ice shelf slowly moves with the ice shelf out to sea and gets covered by snow, SANAE I to III had a finite life span. SANAE I was a simple wood structure, erected on a wooden raft that served as a foundation.
In 1969, an inland field base was established at the Borga mountains, 350 km south of SANAE I. From here most of the present areas of South African interest were investigated. This base closed in 1976.
SANAE II was built in 1970-71 to replace SANAE I. Again a simple structure very similar to its predecessor was built, which by that time was buried under many meters of snow and ice. SANAE II suffered a similar fate.
SANAE III (Opened 1st January 1979, closed on 31st December 1989) – (70.30S, 2.30W). It consisted of large diameter steel pipes, designed to more easily resist the enormous pressure imposed by the steadily increasing mass of snow. A new field base to support the summer activities, was built at Grunehogna and christened “Sarie Marais”. Sarie Marias was about 200 km south of SANAE III at the foot of the Grunehogna Mountains.
When SANAE III started showing signs of structural collapse, it became necessary for the SANAP managers to initiate the planning of a new base to ensure South Africa’s continued participation in activities on the continent. After receipt of the draft documentation of the Madrid Protocol of October 1991, it was decided to adhere as strictly as possible to Articles 1 and 2 of Annex 1 of the Protocol that deal with Environmental Impact Assessment. A feasibility study was conducted by consulting engineers and the following were considered as options for a new base:
- A sea base utilizing a second hand drilling platform;
- A sea front base in a natural bay;
- A new base at the existing SANAE III base or
- A new base on an inland nunatak (rocky outcrop)
The decision was made to establish SANAE IV at an inland nunatak, subject to a suitable site being found. In view of the psychological and environmental advantages of the surface structure over the sub-surface option, it was decided to plan for a surface base. Vesleskarvet was chosen as the site holding the lowest environmental, health and safety hazards, and being the most suitable from a construction point of view. During the construction phase, which lasted from the summer of 1993/94 to the summer of 1997/98, the South African Air Force used the Sarie Marais base as a summer station from which to provide logistical (and Search & Rescue) support for the summer field parties and the construction team. SANAE 36 in 1997, was the first team to overwinter at Vesleskarvet. The base was completed in the summer of 1997 and SANAE 37, was the first team to enjoy all the facilities of the new base.
SANAE’s research is divided into four programmes:
- Physical sciences
- Earth sciences
- Life sciences
- Oceanographic sciences
Only the physical sciences programme is conducted year-round at SANAE IV. The other programmes are conducted during the short summer period when the temperatures and weather permits field work and the extent of the sea ice is at its minimum.
SANAE participates in several international collaboration experiments, including:
- SHARE: in conjunction with Halley (British Antarctic Survey) and Syowa (Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition). SHARE is part of the global SuperDARN experiment which includes a radar at Goose Bay (John Hopkins University).
- AMIGO: forms part of the global STEP (Solar-Terrestrial Energy Programme) experiment, and includes, Manetometers, Riometers, Imaging Devices, VLF detection equipment and OMNIPAL receivers.
- ANOKS: Antarctic Research on Cosmic Rays is an experiment to measure cosmic ray variations.
- Astrid satellite telemetry station: SANAE operates and utilises data from the Southern Hemisphere’s groundstation for the Swedish satellite Astrid 2.
- Upper Atmosphere Physics: These experiments deal primarily with Ozone layer depletion studies.
- GPS Project: The data is used by South African local geographic studies as well as studies conducted by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.
SANAP operates 2 Bell 212 Jet Ranger Helicopters during the summer months (approx. 15 December to 15 February)
No permanent landing facility is currently operated under the auspices of SANAP. A Skiway for small aircraft has been established at SANAE IV and is currently operated intermittently during the summer seasons. The runway services some of the Dronning Maudland (Dromland) flights