AECOM – Macquarie Island Modernisation Project – Remote Digital Twin


  1. Summary of the project, product, framework

AECOM was engaged by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) in 2020 to undertake conceptual planning and design of a complete station-wide refresh of its Macquarie Island research station in the subantarctic zone. This work remains underway currently.

Using scant existing data, the planning team created a 3D model of the entire station, including terrain, buildings, vegetation, services infrastructure, roads and fences.

This model was visualised in gaming engine software to create a fully interactive, integrated and contextualised site.

Due to the remoteness of the site, the model was necessary to conduct informed planning activities for the works and understand the contextual infrastructure.

  • Description of project or framework addressing the assessment criteria

AM Principles & Benefit to Organisation

The model was created in the first instance as a conceptual planning tool, however it evolved throughout the course of the project into a training aid, a PR presentation and ultimately – as the basis for the detailed design of the station refurbishment works. The organisational objectives of the AAD are primarily governed by the remoteness of the facilities managed under their remit – i.e. adherence to resupply schedules, accurate cargo manifests, liveability of stations and needs of expeditions.

The achievement of these organisational outputs is only possible with careful pre-planning and a commitment to the validity of information used as the basis for planning decisions. The virtual site model utilised custom-built 3D buildings and infrastructure checked by station personnel for dimensional accuracy and cross-compared to as-built drawings and current photos to ensure validity.

Terrain layers used within the model were based on surveyed data – ensuring that the levels of the surface were accurate. Vegetation, FF&E and contextual elements were added based on photos, creating a full ‘site picture’ of the entire station and its contextual surroundings.

These procedures regarding validity of information inputs to the model ensured that the quality of data within was:

  • Reliable
  • Verifiable
  • Accurate

This assurance of initial data accuracy enabled:

  • Planning decisions to be made with confidence and certainty irrespective of geographic location
  • Rapid and intuitive understanding of the core message content (confirmation of dimensions / accuracy checks etc.) by the station team to not detract from their existing job demands.

Planners and site managers alike could then make full use of the combined contextual data in a fully informed capacity. The model and its core principle of ‘up-front information’ sought to either eliminate, or mitigate to the highest degree possible – organisational risks that may threaten the required outputs of the AAD relating to the liveability and unique requirements of its remote outposts.

Due to the infrequency of supply trips to the station, only made possible by an extremely limited number of resupply assets – confidence that the resupply missions achieve their required objectives must be exceptionally high. For a station-wide refurbishment project, it is essential that all personnel are not only delivered to site safely but are provided with:

  • Suitable accommodations
  • Amenities and ablutions
  • Medical needs
  • Victuals
  • Hygienic facilities
  • Required equipment and materials
  • Storage

It should be noted that these new works requirements are supplementary to those of the expeditioners that already reside on or are planned to visit the island – requiring a level of planning over and above that of a ‘standard’ expedition, which is by itself a significant undertaking.

The AAD greatly aided via their support of the construction of a virtualised site model that would assist in providing the necessary information to meet their operational needs. There was recognition of the value that an integrated model provided and encouragement to populate it to a level of detail that would present no ambiguity to either strategic planners or station members on the ground.

Where key organisational requirements came to the fore in the course of model development, they were integrated to ensure that the content would be not only accurate, but organisationally useful.

The model outputs were critical to obtaining PWC approval for the project and generated virtual flythroughs of the station permitted an immediate, contextual understanding of the site.


The creation of this model is the first instance of site virtualisation for Australia’s Antarctic outposts. The technology has existing in the entertainment / gaming industry for a number of years – but only in the past 2-3 years has it begun to achieve recognition by the engineering, construction and asset management industries as a vital tool in site contextualisation and understanding.

It is envisaged that this model may form the basis for further enhancement of AAD’s asset database on Macquarie Island with the potential to progress similar lines of effort in other locations under AAD’s remit – digitisation efforts that would provide a critical remote management and planning capability to the organisation as a whole.

With the rapidly increasing trend toward digitising assets across multiple industries, it is essential that organisations lay an early foundation to spatially represent their asset portfolios in a future-proofed way that is open to integration and evolution. With its vector-based geometry and spatially accurate dimensions, the model can be used as-is or built upon with relative ease to add detail, interactivity or planning layers in a way that benefits AAD’s operations.

Project & Program Management

The model was a critical component of the effective management of the Macquarie Island Modernisation Project as a whole. In addition to meeting scheduling needs, accurate budgeting and materials forecasting is key to ensuring mission success year by year.

The icebreaker resupply route passes by multiple stations. With limited space on board ship for supplies, there is little-to-no supplementary logistics capacity for ‘fudge factor’ construction materials. Likewise, due to the environmental sensitivity of the island itself, there are few opportunities to store excess construction materials long-term.

This high threshold of material budgeting necessitated high model accuracy to ensure planned refurbishments delivered accurate quantities of materials with the absolute minimum of extra-overs required.

Due to its vector-based construction (as opposed to raster-based photoscans), the model was readily interrogated to output specific volumes, metreages and areas needed to validate the extent of works.

The uniqueness and specific value of the ‘digital twin’ provided throughout the course of the concept, planning and delivery phase of the project was realised early in the project and this evolution continues through delivery. It is anticipated that the model will continue to contribute further to AAD’s mission success in the context of asset digitisation, remote connectedness, asset and information management as time goes on.

Opinion as to specific contribution made by the nominated individual/team/organisation

The combined AECOM-AAD team created the conditions necessary for project success – the AECOM team, comprising Andrew Woods (Lead), Gordon Fisher and Ammar Yayha created the model based on raw data (photos, basic floorgrids, reports etc.) and controlled the outputs necessary to meet AAD’s organisational requirements.

The AAD team, comprised of Adrian Young (Lead), Paul Farrow and Travis Thom rapidly recognised the value brought about by the model and encouraged its continued use and development. Revised requirements throughout the concept development stage of the project sought to leverage the developed model content further and continue investment into the platform as a springboard to further information initiatives. 

  • General comments you may wish to add 

Please see below sample screenshots from the model – these represent some of the unique information perspectives that were created from a site that has not seen major sitewide works, either physical or digital – for the past 70 years.

Project Site

Central Station Area

Interior Existing Science Building

Interior Existing Science Building – Overhead

Interior Plans

Project Works

Site Context

Terrain Spaceproofing

Flooding Simulation – Isthmus

Storm Surge Barrier Simulations

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