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Research Station

Halley Research Station

Halley Research Station, run by the British Antarctic Survey, is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf floating on the Weddell Sea in Antarctica is a British research facility dedicated to the study of the Earth's atmosphere. Measurements from Halley led to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985.

History

Halley was founded in 1956, for the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, by an expedition from the Royal Society. The bay where the expedition decided to set up their base was named Halley Bay, after the astronomer Edmond Halley. The name was changed to Halley in 1977 as the original bay had disappeared due to changes in the ice shelf.

The Building

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.

Halley VI is being built in Cape Town, South Africa by a South African consortium. The first sections were shipped to Antarctica in December 2007 and completion is expected during summer 2008/2009.

Environment

Temperatures at Halley rarely rise above 0°C although temperatures around -10°C are common on sunny summer days. Typical winter temperatures are below -20°C with extreme lows of around -55°C.

Winds are predominantly from the east; strong winds usually pick up the dusty surface snow reducing visibility to a few metres.

One of the reasons for the location of Halley is that it is under the auroral oval, resulting in frequent displays of the Aurora Australis overhead. These are easiest to see during the 105 days when the sun does not rise above the horizon.

Inhabitants

During winter there are usually around 16 overwintering staff (winterovers). In the summer period, from late December to early March, this staff increases to around 70.

It is often not clear from articles about Antarctic bases that very few of the winterers are scientists. Most are the technical specialists required to keep the station and the scientific experiments running. The wintering team at Halley includes a chef, a doctor, mechanics, an electrician, several electronics engineers and a heating and ventilation engineer.

One of the winterers each year is designated as the Base Commander and sworn in as a magistrate, this job is carried out in addition to their normal duties for a small additional salary.

1996 saw the first female winterers at Halley. There have been at least two women wintering every year since then.

Base life

The major event of each year is the arrival of the ship (currently the RRS Ernest Shackleton, before 1999 the RRS Bransfield) in late December. As soon as the ship arrives the work of relief begins, unloading all the cargo. This usually takes about a week of 24-hour working, with a fleet of Sno-Cats hauling sledges of cargo the fifteen or so kilometres from the coast. Depending on sea ice conditions and the topology of the ice coast this might involve a drive of fifty kilometres or if the ship is unable to reach the base ferrying of important cargo and personnel by plane from further up the coast.

After this life continues to be hectic as there is a lot of work to be carried out during the short summer period. This includes both scientific activities and the major maintenance tasks such as raising the platforms. During this time the ship leaves to carry out other tasks.

Around the end of February the ship makes its final visit to Halley. Summer staff, departing winterers and outgoing cargo are loaded on board and the remaining winterers watch their last physical link with the outside world sail off into the distance.

The next event in the base calendar is sundown, the last day when the sun rises over the horizon. This is usually marked by a barbecue and party. The oldest winterer lowers the tattered remains of the Union Flag.

Midwinter has been celebrated in Antarctica since the days of the early explorers and at Halley there is a week of events and parties culminating in the huge midwinter meal. The BBC World Service transmits a special programme with messages from home and a piece of music chosen by each base. It is traditional for the winterers to streak around the building, although they are allowed to wear hats, gloves and boots.

Sunup marks the return of the sun with another barbecue (weather permitting), a new flag is raised by the youngest winterer.

External links

  • Halley Station info on 70South http://www.70South.com/resources/bases/halley/
  • Halley Station info on www.antarctica.ac.uk http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/living_and_working/research_stations/halley/index.php
  • Halley Station Diary on BAS http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/living_and_working/diaries/halley/
  • British Antarctic Survey http://www.antarctica.ac.uk
  • Halley Winterers 1956-present http://www.zfids.org.uk/
  • Halley VI Website http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/living_and_working/research_stations/halley/halleyvi/
  • Other projects for Halley VI http://www.baunetz.de/sixcms_4/sixcms/detail.php?object_id=24&area_id=1226&id=155615
  • Gemma Clarke, Structural Engineer with Faber Maunsell discusses working on the Halley VI research station for the British Antarctic Survey (video)

References

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