On the ice shelf at 76 degrees South | Halley VI Antartic Research Station

Not so long ago, Wired Magazine presented a review on Antarctic bases, the Halley VI base was part of the review, about which we were able to read at that time:

Researchers have occupied this site continuously for 54 years, creating an invaluable scientific record. (The man-made hole in the ozone was first identified here, so the coordinates are crucial in tracking the state of the atmosphere.) But staying put is not easy. The Brunt Ice Shelf moves as much as half a mile a year, like a conveyor belt built to toss tea-drinking scientists into the icy sea. So the old station is being abandoned as it moves toward the abyss. This new base, however, is more like an RV than an A-frame: Several ski-shod pods get towed back to their original positions as the ice shelf moves.

Now in 2012 the Halley VI has finally been completed, so we want to revisit the history of the Halley base, which is a long history that started in 1956, when the first Halley was constructed, containing a mix of building technologies. Three buildings were located on platforms on steel legs, which have been jacked up annually to keep them clear of the accumulated snowfall. An accommodation building and a garage weighing over 50 tons are mounted on skis and towed each year to a new position. Halley I to Halley IV were built directly on the snow and were each abandoned within ten years, having been crushed by the overlying ice.


Halley I in 1964. British Antartic Survey


Halley IV in 1964. British Antartic Survey


Halley V in 1964. British Antartic Survey

There have been five Halley bases built so far. The first four were all buried by snow accumulation and crushed until they were uninhabitable. Various construction methods were tried, from unprotected wooden huts to steel tunnels. Halley V has the main buildings built on steel platforms that are raised annually to keep them above the snow surface.

A design competition was launched by the Royal Institute of British Architects and the British Antarctic Survey in June 2004 to provide a new design for Halley VI. The competition was entered by a number of architectural and engineering firms. In July 2005 the winning design was chosen, by Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects. It is a structure which is, like Halley V, jacked up on legs to keep it above the accumulation of snow. But unlike Halley V, there are skis on the bottom of these legs, which allows the building to be relocated periodically. The same year [2005] Halley was connected to the Internet for the first time, the satellite dome became a new feature of the Halley landscape and made easier to follow the construction of the new station.

At Hugh Broughton Architects website we can read:

Our international competition winning design for the self-sufficient scientific research base is now on site on a floating ice shelf 900 miles from South Pole. Hydraulically elevated ski based modules respond to annually rising snow levels and the need to relocate the base if the site calves off as an iceberg. A special central module provides a dramatic open plan social area at the heart of the station.

In the current year 2012, three notable events has hapenned: Construction of Halley VI has been completed; science experiments moved from Halley V to Halley VI; and Halley V was decommissioned. This facts are important to understand the need of a new research station.


Halley VI by Hugh Broughton Architects


Halley VI by Hugh Broughton Architects

When previous buildings deteriorated easily while breaking off and floating away, also having continuous problems with dripping water, the new design will be helpful to avoid this kind of problems.

We found out that Halley is the most southerly research station operated by the British Antarctic Survey and is located 10,000 miles from the UK on the 150-metre thick floating Brunt Ice Shelf, which moves 400 metres per annum towards the sea. Snow levels rise by over one metre every year and the sun does not rise above the horizon for 105 days during winter. To avoid dangers of ice breaking, the station has been divided into eight individual modules, which are connected by short, flexible corridors. The modules are kept above the snow surface using hydraulic legs mounted on skis.


Halley VI. Full aerial view


Halley VI by Hugh Broughton Architects

In October 2009, the big red central module for the Halley VI Project was completed. On January 28th 2012, residents of Halley V finally heard the news they had been waiting for: “We’re moving house — we’re wintering in Halley VI!!”

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[1] For updates about the rest of the project, you can follow the British Antartic Survey website.
[2] For the unofficial history of Halley Bay go to Z-fids: Halley Bay, 1956-present
[3] You can follow the adventures from Halley VI at Oliver Bonner twitter account: @HalleyEngineer


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