Picking up and moving a world-renowned research laboratory 23 kilometer (14 miles) is no small feat, especially when you're relocating it across the savagely harsh ice sheets of Antarctica. But that’s exactly what's happening to Halley VI, aka the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station.
Halley VI’s home on the 150-meter-thick (492 feet) Brunt Ice Shelf is currently under threat from a 7-kilometer (4.3 miles) crack fracturing through the area. If the station stays, it runs the risk of being stranded on a tiny portion of the ice shelf.
Despite looking like revamped AT-AT Walker from Star Wars, it’s actually a research station that plays a hugely important role in global Earth, atmospheric, and space weather observations. Its work has also been used by the European Space Agency and the UK government.
Halley VI is the sixth generation of Antarctic laboratory on the site, with its fifth incarnation (Halley V) being one of the first labs to detect a hole in the ozone layer.
Using its huge hydraulic skis to glide across the ice and snow, it is well prepared to relocate on a floating shelf. However, this is the first time this particular module will have been moved since it was transported from its construction site to its present location in 2012.
British Antarctic Survey/National Environment Research Council
The issue of the ice fissure has been known about for some time, but the crew had to wait until Antarctica's months of winter darkness, when the Sun sets in March and rises again in October, were over.
The big move, which involves pulling the eight station modules using large tractors, will begin next season. The relocation should be complete by April 6, 2018, according to the Guardian.
“Over the last couple of years our operational teams have been meticulous in developing very detailed plans for the move and we are excited by the challenge,” Tim Stockings, Director of Operations at British Antarctic Survey, said in a statement. “Antarctica can be a very hostile environment. Each summer season is very short – about 9 weeks. And because the ice and the weather are unpredictable we have to be flexible in our approach."
He was keen to assure that no science would be interrupted during the move, though: "We are especially keen to minimise the disruption to the science programmes. We have planned the move in stages – the science infrastructure that captures environmental data will remain in place while the station modules move.”