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New Antarctic base can ski across ice

The UK’s newest Antarctic Research Station can ski across ice, according to researchers. The Halley VI Research Station is the first fully re-locatable research station in the world.

The British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI will open one hundred years after Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic expeditions, signalling a new era for 21st Century polar research as well as the UK’s desire to stay at the cutting edge of scientific enterprise. The station’s backers, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, hope that the Halley VI Research Station will become an icon for British science, architecture and engineering.

The Halley VI Research Station replaces the 20-year old Halley V facility, which is one of the six Halley bases built so far.  Halley V had the main building constructed on steel platforms that were raised annually to keep them above the snow surface. However, as Halley V’s legs were fixed in the ice it could not be moved and its occupation became dangerous. The first Halley base, occupied in 1957 for a Royal Society expedition during the International Geophysical Year, established the region as an important area for examining the Earth’s magnetic field and the near-space atmosphere. It was data from Halley that led to the 1985 BAS finding of the ozone hole.

“The new Halley Research Station is a triumph of British design, innovation and engineering,” said David Willetts, UK Minister for University and Science, while speaking at an event in London, according to the BAS. “The UK’s world-class polar science community now has a unique, cutting edge suite of laboratories on the ice. The legacy of Captain Scott, together with our strong track record of scientific discovery in Antarctica, is set to continue in this excellent new facility.”

Hugh Broughton Architects and multidisciplinary engineers AECOM won the competition to design a new Halley base. They were able to design a research station that contained a world-class laboratory and would be capable of withstanding extremely cold temperatures. The engineers were also able to design a base that could be relocated inland periodically to avoid being stranded on an iceberg. The engineers had to take into consideration that there are typically 16 staff members present during the winter and around 70 during the summer.

According to the BAS’ webpage devoted to “Station Facilities,” the Halley VI Research Station is segmented into eight modules, each outfitted with skis and hydraulic legs. Each leg can be raised to avoid accumulating snow and each module can be moved to a new location.

“The long-term research investigations carried out at Halley since the 1950s have led to deeper understanding of our world,” said Professor Alan Rodger, Interim Director of British Antarctic Survey, in a statement. “In half a century, society has been alerted to our changing climate, about the possibility that melting ice in the Polar Regions will increase sea-level rise, and that human activity can have an impact on the natural environment. The Polar Regions are the Earth’s early warning system – it is here that the first signs of global change are observed. This is the first summer field season for Halley and already, our scientists there are working collaboratively with colleagues from USA including NASA on studies that will gain new knowledge about how our world works. I am proud and grateful that our Government and the public recognize the importance of investing in this new research facility.”

What do you think of the BAS’ new research station? Share your thoughts in the comments section.