Antarctic research station with extendible legs and giant skis allows facility to “ski” across the ice shelf

Halley VI Antarctic research station on skis

Yesterday, the $40.6 million Halley VI Antarctic research station opened its doors to 52 research scientists intent on studying the frigid Antarctic region.  The facility is designed to “ski” on the ice.  Weather elements on the floating Brunt Ice Shelf can dump up to three feet of ice on permanent structures.  In addition, the ice shelf is constantly “flowing” towards the ocean and can break, leaving a permanent facility stranded.  To compensate for the strange weather and geological conditions, architects added extendable hydraulic legs to the bottom of each building “pod” so that the structure can “climb out of the built-up snow”.  When about three feet of ice and snow has accumulated under the structure, the legs are retracted, one-by-one, and extend, sliding the structures above the accumulated ice.  If the structures need to be moved, they can be attached to a bulldozer and be relocated by skiing across the ice.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) established the Halley research station on the Brunt Ice Shelf in 1956. Its first four bases were lost to the ice, which piles up relentlessly – over three feet each year – burying and eventually crushing any building sitting on the ground. A fifth was constructed on steel legs that could be laboriously elongated, but after 20 years of service, the legs are encased in 75-feet of ice and break when it moves.

The current building is largely made up of blue pods that act as research rooms or living rooms (complete with a bedside lamp that can simulate sunrise during around-the-clock-dark winters). A red pod in the middle of the blue pods works as a communal living space, acting as the go-to spot for eating and recreation (-60-degree temperatures, and 100-miles-per-hour winds leave researchers vulnerable to depression and stress).  Home comforts include a hydroponic salad garden and a climbing wall within a double-height central space lined with Lebanese cedar, selected for its scent.  The pods are connected to each other using short, flexible corridors.

According to Popular Science:

“The Halley VI Antarctic research station is, as the name implies, the sixth in a line of Halley facilities that date all the way back to the late 1950s. Data from Halley led to the discovery of the hole in the o-zone layer, so we’re expecting big things when this version’s fully operational in the coming weeks.”


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