Some Antarctic research stations have to endure not only harsh environmental conditions but also an unstable and moving underground when being built on ice shelves. British Antarctic station Halley VI is ready to move from its current location to a new spot, 23 km away. The station which has been standing since 2012 at its current position, has been built especially for being moved to other spots instead of being abandoned

The latest British station has been operational since 2013. It consists of a set of buildings standing on hydraulic stilts and skis to move them over the ice once the floating Brunt Ice shelf becomes too unstable. Picture: James Morris
The latest British station has been operational since 2013. It consists of a set of buildings standing on hydraulic stilts and skis to move them over the ice once the floating Brunt Ice shelf becomes too unstable. Picture: James Morris

British Antarctic Survey is getting ready to move its Halley VI Research Station 23 km across the ice. This is the first time that the station, which has a re-locatable design to cope with life on a floating ice shelf, has been moved since it was towed from its construction site to its present location in 2012. The station sits on Antarctica’s 150 m thick Brunt Ice Shelf. This floating ice shelf flows at a rate of 0.4 km per year west towards the sea where, at irregular intervals, it calves off as icebergs. Halley is crucial to studies into globally important issues such as the impact of an extreme space weather event (which could cause an economic loss of $6 – 42 billion a day), climate change, and atmospheric phenomena. It was scientific investigations from this location that led to the discovery of the Antarctic Ozone Hole in 1985.

Since it has become operational, Halley VI has been mainly used for earth, atmospheric and space weather observations. It predecessors I - IV had to be abandoned due to accumulated snow, only Halley V remained operational for more than 20 years and was demolished in the end. Picture: NASA
Since it has become operational, Halley VI has been mainly used for earth, atmospheric and space weather observations. It predecessors I - IV had to be abandoned due to accumulated snow, only Halley V remained operational for more than 20 years and was demolished in the end. Picture: NASA

Long-term monitoring of the natural changes that occur in the ice shelf has revealed glaciological changes, including new growth of a chasm that has been dormant for around 35 years. Preparatory work for the re-location was carried out during the 2015-16 Antarctic Summer season (Nov-March). This included the search for a new place and the appropriate route. Now that the station has emerged from months of winter darkness, operational teams are ready to tow the station to its new home. This involves uncoupling the 8 station modules and using large tractors to transport each module further inland. Scientific research at Halley will continue in temporary facilities at the existing site and move to the new location next season. Tim Stockings, Operations Director of BAS says: “Halley was designed and engineered specifically to be re-located in response to changes in the ice.  Over the last couple of years our operational teams have been meticulous in developing very detailed plans for the move and we are excited by the challenge.  Antarctica can be a very hostile environment.  Each summer season is very short – about 9 weeks.  And because the ice and the weather are unpredictable we have to be flexible in our approach.  We are especially keen to minimise the disruption to the science programmes.  We have planned the move in stages – the science infrastructure that captures environmental data will remain in place while the stations modules move.”

The station consists of 8 modules which house laboratories, dorms and living spaces including a library at one of the module chain. The living space in the middle also has the canteen, computers and recreational areas. Picture: Hugh Broughton Architects
The station consists of 8 modules which house laboratories, dorms and living spaces including a library at one of the module chain. The living space in the middle also has the canteen, computers and recreational areas. Picture: Hugh Broughton Architects

Source: British Antarctic Survey