A dig through the MetroCosm archives... purely for my own indulgence!
This week's 'Cosm revisited' pretty much picked itself. Over on my work blog, I recently posted about an infographic I created for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) that describes a five-year mission to investigate ice loss in Antarctica's glaciers. So it made sense to follow that theme into this blog.
I have actually selected a couple of old MetroCosm articles. The first is an article from February 2013 about the British Antarctic Survey's Halley VI research station. The second, from May 2014, is also about ice loss in Antarctic glaciers – I am only posting the infographic because it covers much of the same ground as the graphic I created for NERC. It is also a lesson in 'looking to see if you have done something similar before' – because I had totally forgotten about this Cosm and it would have saved me some research time on the NERC project!
Now THAT's what I call a mobile home!
The Brunt Ice Shelf is not what you’d call the ideal location to build a manned scientific research station. More than 16,000km from home, this floating shelf of ice sits beneath a hole in the ozone layer, experiences temperatures exceeding -50C; is regularly pummelled by 145kph blizzards and endures winters that, for 50 days of year, blanket the area in 24-hour darkness.
Over the winter, snow accumulates at such a rate that buildings are swiftly buried in a tomb of crushing snow and ice. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the seemingly solid ice on which it is built, is actually a relentless frozen conveyor belt that carries anything on it towards a watery grave.
Despite these overwhelming odds, the British Antarctic Survey have been building scientific research stations on the Brunt Ice Shelf since 1957. Their latest, the Halley VI Antarctic Research Station has just opened for business and is the culmination of almost sixty years of hard lessons and against-the-odds architectural and technological evolution.
Unlike its predecessors, whose countdown to destruction began as soon as they were built, Halley VI is designed with longevity in mind.
Click on the infographic to embiggen.
The state-of-the-art complex consists of eight modules, strung together like a train that lost its way, which are mounted on hydraulic legs that allow the station to be periodically raised above the ever-accumulating snow – eliminating the entombment issue.
To avoid being carried out to sea, the hydraulic legs boast a set of skis that enables the station’s modules to dragged towards the mainland when the icy depths of the Weddell Sea get too close for comfort.
But why go to all this effort in the first place? Over the decades, the Halley research stations have become a major centre for atmospheric studies, geology and glaciology. It was here, in 1985, that British scientists first measured the hole in the ozone layer and spurred the international ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
More recently, Halley has played a major role in the study of solar activity and the effects that solar radiation has on the Earth.
Life in any polar region is tough but the new station, which was designed by London-based Hugh Broughton Architects, provides a little luxury for its inhabitants.
All the basics are provided for, such as bedrooms, bathrooms and dining areas, but there is also a large two-story module that houses a games room, gymnasium, social areas and even a bar.
Antarctic glaciers in retreat
My MetroCosm science column ran in the Metro Newspaper from 2005, until it's premature demise in 2014.