Thule Air Base Arctic Construction

 

Thule Air Base Built for Extreme Weather

The minimum temperature and maximum wind velocity were not known in this part of the world when the base was planned. Therefore, everything was built to the highest standards possible for temperatures of -100 F (-73 C) and winds up to 200 mph (320 km/hr). Special designs were also incorporated from lessons learned in Alaska during WWII.

It was built by 5,000 to 8500 experienced U S construction workers, toiling ten hours per day and seven days per week, a majority of which were employed by North Atlantic Constructors (NAC).

Thule AB and Mt. Dundas Here is an overall view of Thule Air Base with Mt. Dundas and North Star Bay in the background. While it is probably correct to state that Thule AFB became operational before 1953, it was far from being completed at that time.

Later when I was there (1968) the majority of work on daily maintenance and housekeeping was done by Danish civilians. Besides the primary early alert function of the base with the huge over-the-horizon radar (BEMEWS), the base also supported international arctic research projects at outlying posts in Greenland and Canada. During the summer, there were numerous scientists and researchers coming and going on various projects. The airstrip supported both military and civilian commercial flights from the U.S. and Europe that transported the many people involved with all the operations.

Thule Air Base Construction Techniques

Buildings that had to be at ground level, like aircraft hangars, had double floors with cold air circulating between the two floors, as shown below.

Arctic building

All other buildings were well above ground. This prevented the permafrost from thawing out and drastically shifting from the buildings' heat inside. As long as the 1600 feet (480 m) thick permafrost stayed frozen, Thule buildings sat on solid ground. If the permafrost thawed, it was just a slushy mix of water and gravel. So everything built on the permafrost was designed to keep the permafrost frozen as much as possible.

Below is shown a typical building on blocks to keep it well above the permafrost. If the building heat thawed the permafrost, probably the building would sink, shift, or tilt.

Arctic raised building

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NOTE: I heard that around 2009 the summers were so much warmer that some of the buildings were sinking into the mushy thawed permafrost. Also, many of the roads were so deeply thawed out that vehicles were getting stuck in places that had always been like a solid concrete road.

Below is a picture someone sent me to show what appears to be global warming with thawing permafrost at Thule in recent past.

Thawed permafrost road

Arctic pipes All utility pipes were above ground, insulated and heated.

Could not run pipes under the road anywhere so they had to go over the road with all utility pipes and wires.

Pipes over road

Read here a little interesting background on how these pipes were installed in the rock-hard permafrost.

Arctic buildingThis building on top of North Mountain needed barrels filled with rocks to hold it down in the high winds.

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© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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