An inside look at the central module of the Halley VI Research Station
By Thomas Hayden
The British Antarctic Survey this week announced the winner of a design competition for a replacement research base at Halley Station on Antarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf. To match the almost otherworldly conditions at the site, the winning team of engineering firm Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects came up with a futuristic designa series of 12 highly insulated, interlocking modules built on mechanical legs and giant skis. The modules will weigh between 65 and 130 tons each, and together will provide housing and work space for up to 52 scientists and technicians. Lead architect Hugh Broughton spoke with U.S. News about the new project.
Interested in seeing more images of the Halley VI Research Station?
What are some of the challenges of building in such a remote, extreme location?
In the winter, temperatures of minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit are common, and the winds can blow at 100 miles per hour for up to two weeks. And the Halley base gets around four [feet] of snow a year, so clearly the building needs to cope with this rising snow level.
Is that where the legs come in?
That's a key part of it, yes. Every year, each leg rises up out of the snow in turn, new snow is put underneath, and the leg is settled down onto this raised platform, so the whole station gently rises up on the mechanical legs to resettle at a level above the snow. It's a bit like if you've got your boots on, you can lift your foot out of the snow and shake the snow off and then put it back down again.
Why are the legs built on skis?
Because the base is located quite close to the seafor both scientific and logistic reasonsit's built on a floating ice shelf. The ice is continually flowing toward the sea [at about 440 yards per year]. The current base has now flowed so far out toward the sea that within the next 10 years there's the risk of that ice cracking up and the station disappearing on an iceberg. The new base will be built on skis, so that you can tow it to a new location when there's a risk of the iceberg forming.
How long will your base last?
The first base [built at Halley Station in 1956] was really just a collection of huts, and that got buried. The next three bases got crushed by the pressure of the ice and the snow. The current base, which was built in 1992, was one of the earliest bases in Antarctica to be raised up on stilts, so it will actually have lasted for 15 or 16 years by the time it is decommissioned. But our base, because it is relocatable, has a minimum design life of 20 years, and because it's very flexible, we're hoping it's going to last longer than that.
What about the science?
That element of the design is being constantly developed with the scientists. The British base looks at near atmosphere meteorology and also the condition of the ozone layer. It was at Halley in 1985 that the hole in the ozone layer was first discovered. So we had to make sure we could get equipment on the roof and that there were domes in the roof, which gave the instrumentation 360-degree views of the skies.