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8 December 2016

Weakening Ice Shelf Forces Relocation of British Antarctic Research Station

Britain’s Halley VI Antarctic Research station, funded and operated by the British Antarctic Survey, has sat peacefully recording data from the Brunt Ice Shelf since it was first moved from the initial construction site in 2012, although the history of the site on which it is located stretches back much further than that; in fact, ozone measurements have been made at the site continuously since 1956, and it was from this very location that the Antarctic Ozone Hole was discovered in 1985.

Img source: British Antarctic Survey
Now, due to the expansion of a massive chasm cutting straight through the 150m thick ice shelf, the entire station will be relocated to a new site, nicknamed Halley VI A, 23km further inland.

While the station hasn’t moved since its initial placement, the modular design to which it was built had relocation in mind from the very beginning; an essential feature for such constructs destined for a life on the unpredictable ice shelves of Antarctica. The station’s eight individual modules will eventually be detached and towed to the new site by tractor.

Img source: British Antarctic Survey
The relocation will take place over a three year period. Work, in fact, has already begun, with the focus of the 2015-2016 Antarctic summer being in-depth site surveys and ice monitoring, including the selection of the new site, Halley VI A. Initial preparations for the de-coupling of modules also took place during this period.

The 2016-2017 summer season will see temporary housing being established for the workforce, whilst some of the station’s infrastructure will begin its long journey across the ice. Scientific instruments and operations will be moved the following year, finally completing the relocation project by April 2018.

Just to make matters worse, in October 2016 a new crack emerged approximately 17km north of the research station. The crack cut across the station’s major supply route, forcing the team to seek out alternative relief sites, which have now been successfully identified.

It is not known whether the emergence and expansion of these cracks is related in any way to climate change.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.