Ice Station Trudges Across Antarctic Shelf

Besides saving energy and resources, one of the most important aspects of green building is to create structures that are perfectly suited to their environments. One unlikely example is this new, amusingly anthropomorphic collection of science labs in the Antarctic called the Halley VI Research Station.

Envisioned by British designers Hugh Broughton Architects for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the research facility is built not only to withstand the fantastically cruel winters of the Antarctic ice sheet but also to prevent itself from being buried in the mountains of drifting snow and ice. In fact, it practically looks like it could crawl away on its own power.

The Antarctic's Halley VI Research Station looks like it crawled out of the tropics but is ideally suited to the cold. Image via Hugh Broughton Architects.

The Antarctic’s Halley VI Research Station looks like it crawled out of the tropics but is ideally suited to the cold. Image via Hugh Broughton Architects.

The caterpillar-like resemblance comes from a series of hydraulic legs, which hold each connected module aloft so that the facility is kept above the rising snow accumulations. The foot of each leg contains a ski pad, so that researchers can use Sno-Cat machines to drag individual modules to different locations. This portability feature is crucial for a research station located on the 500-foot-thick Brunt Ice Shelf, pieces of which can break off and float away during the summers.

Seen here after being completely iced over, the Halley VI units can be moved as needed by Sno-cat vehicles. Image by James Goby via BAS.

Seen here after being completely iced over, the Halley VI units can be moved as needed by Sno-cat vehicles. Image by James Goby via BAS.

BAS also calls Halley VI “the most environmentally friendly facility” the organization has ever built. The modular design had a low impact on the local environmental during construction and has an “extremely efficient” life cycle. The modules are roughly divided into living quarters and laboratory spaces that are joined by a central recreation module, where residents can interact and relax in their off hours.

The cozy lounge/bar area of one of the modules belies the ferocious weather conditions outside. Image by Sam Burell via BAS.

The cozy lounge/bar area of one of the modules belies the ferocious weather conditions outside. Image by Sam Burell via BAS.

“Halley VI will be a visitor to Antarctica, not a resident,” according to the Hugh Broughton site. “[The design’s] mobility and flexibility means that the new station will survive and perform on the ice for far longer than any of its distinguished predecessors.”

Construction of the site took a total of 36 weeks that were spread out across four summers, when the weather was warm enough to allow work crews to the site. Now complete, the mini modular city contains a series of pods that can accommodate 52 researchers in the summer and 16 diehards in over the dark winters.

Hydraulic legs help raise the modules as snow builds up, preventing the station from being buried in the winter. Image by Anthony Dubber via BAS.

Hydraulic legs help raise the modules as snow builds up, preventing the station from being buried in the winter. Image by Anthony Dubber via BAS.

The station was opened in early February (during the austral summer) and replaces the 20-year-old Halley V station, which was also supported on stilts but was not capable of being moved, module by module. Currently, the station is located about 900 miles from the South Pole and experiences 105 days a year when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon. Temperatures in winter can drop as low as -70 degrees F.

For those interested, a webcam image of the station is updated every four hours on the Halley VI website.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.