The Making of an Antarctic Station

When your first five research stations get pummeled by the harsh polar environment, build one you can move.

The Halley VI Research Station underneath the aurora in Antarctica. (Antony Dubber)
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In 1956, the British Antarctic Survey established the Halley Research Station. Located on the Brunt Ice Shelf at the edge of the Weddell Sea, Halley housed scientists who studied space weather and many types of Earth and atmospheric sciences (it was a Halley science team that discovered the hole in the ozone in 1985). But they encountered a major problem: Within a decade, the station became buried and was eventually crushed by snow. So they built a second station. Which got crushed. And a third, and a fourth, which met the same demise. Halley V avoided burial, but the research teams had to abandon it too—the steel platform it was built on was anchored in ice that slowly flows from the mainland to the sea, and the station eventually strayed too close to the edge to be habitable. 

So in 2004, the BAS solicited architecture firms to come up with a design that could solve all of their problems. The winner became Halley VI, a set of eight modules with hydraulic legs and skis. Designed by Hugh Broughton, it was completed in 2012. The new science facility, like Halley V, sits above the snow cover to avoid getting buried, but this version can also move toward the mainland as the shelf sloughs towards the sea. In fact, Halley VI is the world’s first fully relocatable research station. The making of Halley VI is documented in the new book Ice Station (University of Chicago Press, 2015) by Ruth Slavid, with photographs by James Morris. You can see a small set of images from the book in the gallery below. 

Trial erection of a standard blue module in Cape Town gave the construction crew valuable experience in putting the buildings together, and offered a chance to test the hydraulics and the air tightness of the cladding. (Dave Southwood)
Halley summer crew returning for “smoko” [afternoon tea], the traditional mid-morning break that originated on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expeditions to Antarctica, and which the British have continued ever since. (James Morris)
The Halley IV Research Station on the Brunt Ice Shelf. (James Morris)
Toward the end of the third construction season the modules were moved from Halley V to the site of Halley VI. The 15-kilometer journey took one and a half hours. Weighing just over 200 tons, the main social module was one of the largest loads ever moved on ice. (British Antarctic Survey)
Double-height space at the heart of the social module. It is glazed with translucent panels insulated with Nanogel, giving high levels of both thermal insulation and light transmittance. The material was originally developed by the space industry. Clear glazing at the base of the window gives views of the Antarctic wilderness. (James Morris)
Upper-level climate observatory with 360-degree views of the Brunt Ice Shelf (James Morris)
Storms regularly batter the station, with winds sometimes exceeding 150 km/h. At other times cold mists engulf the Brunt Ice Shelf, creating white-out conditions. (James Morris)
Hugh Broughton Architects' and AECOM's design for an Atmospheric Watch Observatory for the U.S. National Science Foundation, to be located at the summit of the Greenland Ice Cap. (Hugh Broughton Architects)
The Halley VI Research Station underneath the aurora in Antarctica. (Antony Dubber)
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