After four years of planning, preparation and construction, the new Halley VI Research Station opened in Antarctica this week. The base, which is operated by the British Antarctic Survey, is designed to be versatile and mobile, while also monitoring the rapidly changing environmental conditions at the bottom of the world. As the name implies, the Halley VI is the sixth station of its kind to be built by the Antarctic Survey. Four of those previous bases were crushed over time by the accumulation of snow and ice, while the fifth was built to withstand those conditions, but because it was immobile, the ice flow it is located on has drifted out to sea, making occupation a dicey proposition for the scientists and researchers that used it. This new station gets around both problems by incorporating hydraulic legs with skis on each of its eight modules. The legs help to keep the buildings above the snow and ice, while the skis allow the entire station to be repositioned as needed, even as the ice shelf shifts and changes over time.
In addition to being built to withstand the demanding Antarctic conditions, the Halley VI Research Station is also designed to be a comfortable living environment for those who are stationed there. The base is rated to withstand temperatures down to -69°F and features a host of living quarters, office spaces, laboratories and a communications center. During the summer months, it can house as many as 70 people, but during the long, cold Antarctic winters, it will be manned by a skeleton crew of just 16. That is the size of the current team, which is tasked with keeping the base fully operational until the full staff returns later this year.
The Halley VI is also packed with a host of environmental sensors and other monitoring devices. This high tech gear will help the station conduct its primary mission, which is to research the changing environmental conditions in the Antarctic. The base will watch for ozone depletion, measure rising sea levels, keep an eye on changing environmental conditions and study polar atmospheric chemistry. The hope is that by gathering more data, we’ll have a better understanding of how global climate change is effecting the polar regions in particular and the planet as a whole.
Over the lifetime of all six Halley research stations, the British Antarctic Survey has been able to continually collect meteorological and atmospheric data since 1956. With this new station now online, that impressive streak will stay intact.
By Kraig Becker