As a precautionary measure, officials with the British Antarctic Survey have decided to shut down the Halley VI Research Station for the winter after a new ice crack emerged just a few kilometres from the remote outpost.
The portable Halley VI Research Station. (Image: BAS)
The portable Halley VI station is now in the final stages of being relocated 23km from its present site, positioning it upstream of a problematic ice crack that appeared in 2012. Late last year, a second crack emerged about 17km north of the research station. The remote science outpost rests on Antarctica's 150m-thick Brunt Ice Shelf, which is showing signs of an imminent collapse. Antarctic ice shelves calve at irregular intervals, producing large icebergs. The remaining ice shelf is often unstable.
Researchers with the British Antarctic Survey aren't sure if or when the Brunt Ice Shelf will collapse, or what effects a calving event will have on the ice sheet as a whole. They're not taking any chances, so as of March 2017 the 88-strong research station will be abandoned. The researchers are currently taking efforts to ensure that the collection of scientific data continues in their absence.
"The current work to relocate our station is going very well," said BAS Director of Operations Time Stockings in a statement. "This challenging engineering project is scheduled to complete as planned by early March 2017. We want to do the right thing for our people. Bringing them home for winter is a prudent precaution given the changes that our glaciologists have seen in the ice shelf in recent months. Our goal is to winterize the station and leave it ready for re-occupation as soon as possible after the Antarctic winter."
The risk of a calving event is obviously worse in the summer, but the problem is one of accessibility. A quick evacuation would be relatively easy during the Antarctic summer, but during the winter (March to November), rescue crews would have to deal with 24 hours of darkness, extremely low temperatures and the frozen sea.