Dormant chasm has opened up and risks cutting the station off from the rest of the ice shelf
Image: The British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station has recorded records data relevant to space weather, climate change, and atmospheric phenomena since 2012. Photograph: British Antarctic Survey.
Britain is preparing to move its research station in the Antarctic 23km further inland because it is under threat from a growing crack in the ice.
The British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station has recorded data relevant to space weather, climate change, and atmospheric phenomena from its site on the Brunt Ice Shelf shelf since 2012.
However, due to a growing chasm about 7km (4.3 miles) away that risks cutting the station off from the rest of the shelf, officials have announced that base will have to be moved.
The new site, nicknamed Halley VI A, was identified during in-depth site surveys in the 2015-16 Antarctic summer. Now that winter has passed, the relocation team are preparing to tow the station 23km to its new home using large tractors.
Though the station has not been moved from its present location since it was taken there from its construction site in 2012, it was designed with potential relocation in mind to accommodate movement in the ice.
Tim Stockings, director of operations at British Antarctic Survey, said in a statement the team was “excited by the challenge”, and minimising disruption to science programmes was a priority.
“Antarctica can be a very hostile environment. Each summer season is very short, about nine weeks. And because the ice and the weather are unpredictable we have to be flexible in our approach.”
Image: Map of the Halley IV Research Station Photograph: British Antarctic Survey
In 2012, satellite monitoring revealed the first signs of movement in a chasm in the ice shelf that had lain dormant for at least 35 years. Glaciologists have since determined the most likely path and speed of the crack, and monitoring is ongoing.
Parts of the ice shelf irregularly cleave off from the ice sheet, creating icebergs. It is not known if the growth of the crack is related to global warming.
In October, a second crack emerged in the ice about 17km north of the station, across a route sometimes used to resupply the base. Alternative paths have been used since.
The planned move will be completed in stages over a period of three years, allowing scientific research to continue in temporary facilities at Halley at the existing site.
The station’s eight modules will eventually be unattached and moved inland across the ice by tractor. Operations will then be moved to the new location next season.
The relocation should be completed by 6 April 2018.
Ozone measurements have been recorded continuously at Halley since 1956, and led to the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in 1985. Space weather data is also captured there daily.
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