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Nature

Growing Ice Chasms Force Scientists To Abandon Antarctic Research Lab Again

author

Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockNov 1 2017, 13:05 UTC

The weather station sits on ski-like sledges, so it can move along the ice shelf. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) 

Get your skis on. For the second year in a row, 14 scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have had to abandon their research lab following fears of another growing crack in the ice shelf.

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The BAS Halley VI Research Station is a cutting-edge weather station that observes global Earth, atmospheric, and space weather. It lives on the 150-meter-thick (492 feet) floating Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica, a climate-sensitive zone ideal for making these recordings.  

As if living on a floating ice shelf in the middle of nowhere wasn’t dangerous enough, the BAS Halley VI Research Station is now precariously between two growing ice cracks, as you can see in the image gathered from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites below.

The growing “Halloween Crack” was spotted by glaciologists, weirdly enough, just before Halloween on October 25, 2017. Since last year, this split in the ice has almost doubled in length. The research station is also faced with a pair of ice chasms to the south that appears to have grown over the last 7 months. This forced the base to edge 23 kilometers (14 miles) inland at the end of the latest Antarctic summer.

"What we are witnessing is the power and unpredictability of nature,” Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of BAS, said in a statement.

The new "Halloween Crack" can be seen in the top right of the map. Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), Processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

“The safety of our staff is our priority in these circumstances. Our Antarctic summer research operation will continue as planned and we are confident of mounting a fast uplift of personnel should fracturing of the ice shelf occur,” she added.

Even without the threat of these cracks, life as a scientist on the Halley VI Research Station is pretty tough. During their winter, between March and November, they're faced with 24-hour darkness, bitterly low temperatures, and extreme isolation.  

“However, because access to the station by ship or aircraft is extremely difficult during the winter months of 24-hour darkness, extremely low temperatures, and the frozen sea, we will once again take the precaution of shutting down the station before the 2018 Antarctic winter (March - November) begins," said Professor Francis. 

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Hopefully, the scientists' work won't be too disturbed. The BAS plans on deploying these researchers to other Antarctic research stations or its headquarters in Cambridge, UK.

You can watch some beautifully shot drone footage from 2016 of the Brunt Ice Shelf's crack below.


Nature
  • weather,

  • Antarctic,

  • Halley VI,

  • British Antarctic Survey,

  • weather station,

  • ice crack,

  • ice self

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