Cold Comfort: A Better Antarctic Base
Halley VI, a new British Antarctic research station officially opened for business this week, welcoming the first inhabitants for an extended stay. The station, which is located along the Brunt Ice Shelf near 75º south, just off the Weddell Sea, is designed to monitor the changing conditions and climate in the region. It will be home to 16 scientists throughout the long winter ahead. During the busier summer months, it can house as many as 70.
Built from a set of modular structures that can be easily moved, the Halley VI was designed to be comfortable even in the extreme conditions of the Antarctic. It is rated to withstand temperatures as low as -69ºF/-56ºC, and a built-in set of hydraulic legs can be raised or lowered to help the base withstand heavy snows (previous research facilities, it seems, have been crushed under the weight of Antarctic precipitation).
The Halley VI has another trick up its sleeve that can help it survive where its predecessors failed. All seven of the interlocked modules can be placed on skis and moved to a different location, which will come in handy when the pack ice that it currently rests on begins to recede further. Considering the Brunt Ice Shelf moves about 700 meters in a given year and doesn't rest over any kind of permanent ground, the mobility of the station could greatly extend the life of the station.
It's taken four years for the British Antarctic Survey team to complete the construction of the base (check out this Guardian article for more details on its fascinating architecture) and for now it will be manned by just a skeleton crew. As the Antarctic winter hits in just a few short weeks, those first inhabitants of the Halley VI will be cut off until the spring. At that time, the station will be resupplied and a full compliment of staff and maintenance crew will arrive onsite. Until then, they will endure some very dark and lonely days, indeed.
This story first appeared on The Adventure Blog.