Many online sources stresses how much the antarctic wind is dangerous for the structures and for the personnel, yet most buildings I see are built off the ground.

I suppose that is due to the different thermal conductivity of the air vs the ground.

Yet, many arctic dwelling tribes build enclosed hut on contact with the ground, as if the wind chill is actually much more dangerous than the heat lost with the ground.

Besides, building underground should guarantee an average temperature and/or depending on depth a better temperature for materials and people.

Habitats should still need insulation, but maybe they would reduce the fuel consumption to heat the habitats.

Could you point me towards research papers and/or data regarding antarctic soil temperature?

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    $\begingroup$ please take a look at the amount of snow that does come in the antarctic area every winter,snowfall of multiple meters is not un common,and wind can move all of this snow in a very short time so if you elevate the building you avoid it beeing buried by snow.regarding data from the soil take a look here polarportal.dk/en/greenland/frozen-ground in antarctica there is little soil to freeze so i do not have the data for this. $\endgroup$ Feb 25, 2019 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ thanks for the suggestion! Actually Antarctica is a rather dry country, with total annual precipitation around 100mm liquid equivalent, so while i can definitely see why this could be a problem for heavy snowfall, i don't think it happens very often in the antarctica. link $\endgroup$ Feb 25, 2019 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Going underground would create too much disturbance - Antarctica is still an international wilderness. In some places the snow is too deep to go underground. Also, not all all the stations are raised on stilts. The Australian coastal stations: Casey, Davis & Mawson are at ground level, on rock. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Feb 25, 2019 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Tunnels under the South Pole for a sewage system: About those tunnels More about those ice tunnels. $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2019 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ @trondhansen Results of snow accumulation in this video at 11:40 . $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2019 at 1:36

2 Answers 2


Antarctica is a whole continent and it is as diverse as any other continent.

There are two reasons buildings are often built off the ground on pillars.

1.- Avoid snow accumulation: Although in average Antarctica is a dry continent, in some coastal areas there can be massive amounts of snow accumulation. Building on pillars spare the buildings to get buried and most importantly allows the wind to blow the snow away. If you build on the surface, the snow will accumulate on the lee of the building. This happens even if there is very small snow fall, because wind transport the snow for long distance and the lee of a building is favourable for accumulation. Therefore, even it snows 1 mm, the millimiter that fell in all the ground 100 km upwind can end up piled behind your hut, and block your door.

2.- To rise buildings: Many of the bases are built on ice, and all those are buit on the accumulation area of glaciers or ice sheets. Therefore, with time the surface will rise relative to the building and will eventually swallow it. Therefore, in many cases (like the Amudsen-Scott base at the South Pole). The pillars are designed to be extended, therefore allowing to rise the building as the ice below thickens, keeping it at an optimal distance for the ground.

Regarding the inquiry about soil temperature, again that is too broad. Imaging asking about the soil temperature in North America, the answer would be quite different for Mexico than for Alaska. The same contrast can be found between bare ground areas of the Antarctic Peninsula at latitude 60°S and at almost 5,000 m of elevation on Mount Vinson plateau at latitude ~80°S

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    $\begingroup$ An additional consideration, frost heave will move buildings built directly on the ground, because pillared buildings do not create a thermal gradient in the ground they have no problem with it. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 11, 2019 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ @John: And the individual pillars could be designed to be adjustable... $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Mar 12, 2019 at 17:47

I suspect the reason has to do with the stability of the ground due to issues with permafrost.

In areas with permafrost if you build right on or in the ground then waste heat from the building will start to melt the permafrost. Once the permafrost starts to melt it cannot effectively support the weight of the building and the building starts to settle further into the ground. Unfortunately the settling differs over the support of the building leading to cracking and deformation of the building. To build on the ground in a climate with permafrost requires a lot of engineering and additional construction steps to make a stable platform for the building while preventing the supporting permafrost hardened ground from melting due to waste heat from the building itself.

In Canada's north many buildings are built by pile driving metal piping into the ground past the permafrost layer. These pipes are then cut above the ground to provide a level building surface. This construction allows some insulation below the flooring to allow the soil underneath to remain frozen and solid enough to support the weight of the building.

Traditional arctic dwelling peoples did not heat their living quarters to the same extent as most people do now, additionally if their homes settled do to melting it wasn't as big an issue as it is with current building strategies.

The following site is about the issues of dealing with frozen ground. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/frozenground/people.html


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