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article imageNew ice crack forces Halley VI Research Station to close again

By Karen Graham     Nov 2, 2017 in Science
The "Halloween" crack that popped up last year around the end of October is not about to give the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) a break. BAS has been forced to abandon its Halley VI research station for a second winter due to a new crack.
On December 6, 2016, Digital Journal reported BAS was finishing up on the relocation of its Halley VI research station because a giant chasm in the ice shelf was threatening to break off, leaving the portion of the ice shelf the station was sitting on floating in the sea, while another crack was threatening the station.
The 150 meters (452 feet) thick Brunt Ice Shelf in East Antarctica floats on top of the Weddell Sea. Chasm 1, one of two near the research station became active again in 2012, after being dormant for about 33 years. The Chasm 1 crack has been moving North toward the Halley VI station at the rate of about 1.7 kilometers (one mile) per year, threatening to cut the station off.
BAS began preparing for a move to another location in 2014 and by October 2016, the relocation effort was nearly complete. Then, on October 31, another crack appeared in the ice shelf about 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) to the north and east of the new base position.
Location of the cracks on December 8  2016.
Location of the cracks on December 8, 2016.
British Antarctic Survey
The current condition of the Halloween crack
Now, with the discovery that the second crack is growing eastward, the 14-person winter crew, down from about 70 people during the short summer months, will need to be relocated to one of the other BAS Antarctic research stations or to BAS headquarters in Cambridge. The Halloween crack has now crossed the resupply trail for the research station. The station will now be closed from March through November of 2018.
“The safety of our staff is our priority in these circumstances,” Jane Francis, director of the British Antarctica Survey tells Nicola Davis at The Guardian. “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 begins.”
Graphic showing changes to the Brunt Ice Shelf and the location of Halley VI Research Station as of ...
Graphic showing changes to the Brunt Ice Shelf and the location of Halley VI Research Station as of October 31, 2017.
British Antarctic Survey
David Vaughn, British Antarctic Survey’s director of science said, “We are not going to move the station any further—we believe that the station is actually in the optimal place on the ice shelf now."
According to a press release, "over the decades the Halley station has played a key role in collecting climate and weather data as well as detecting the hole in the ozone layer. In recent years, researchers at the station have studied solar radiation and its impacts on Earth. The winter closures disrupt that continuous sampling."
Even with a sophisticated network of ice sensors and satellite imagery, it is impossible for glaciologists to predict future events on the ice shelf. The Director of BAS, Professor Dame Jane Francis says, “What we are witnessing is the power and unpredictability of Nature. 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."
More about British Antarctic Survey, Halley VI research station, brunt ice shelf, Weddell Sea, Antarctica
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