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article imageUK's Halley research station closed due to crack in ice shelf

By Karen Graham     Mar 1, 2019 in Science
The British Antarctic Survey's (BAS) Halley Research Station normally operates year round, but BAS will not over-winter at the station until it can be established that the Brunt Ice Shelf is once again safe for year-round operation.
Halley's staff has departed the research station, leaving almost 80 percent of the experiments they'd normally conduct through the polar night operating on automatic, reports the BBC.
While there is uncertainty over the stability of the Brunt Ice Shelf, BAS believes the station is far enough away from the cracks in the shelf to remain unaffected should the shelf break off.
According to BAS, the latest data from the network of sensors on the ice shelf, combined with information from satellite imagery, show that glaciological conditions on the Brunt Ice Shelf remain unpredictable.
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
Earlier in February, NASA Earth Observatory shared images of the ice shelf, comparing a satellite view from Jan. 23 this year to another image taken on Jan. 30, 1986. The crack along the top of the January 23 image—the so-called Halloween crack—first appeared in late October 2016 and continues to grow eastward.
The immediate concern is the fracture that is moving in a northward direction and it has only about 3 miles to go before reaching the Halloween crack.
The British Antarctic Survey has had a presence on the ice shelf since 1956 when they set up the Halley Research Station.
The Halley station has been moved several times recently due to the threat posed by chasms and cracks in the ice. The Halley Research Station was last moved in November 2017 due to the growth of two chasms in the ice shelf. However, the growing rifts have raised safety concerns for the researchers.
The winter aurora over Halley VI is spectacular. 
Film by Sam Burrel  British Antarctic Survey
The winter aurora over Halley VI is spectacular. Film by Sam Burrel, British Antarctic Survey
British Antarctic Survey
"What really matters is what happens upstream of the chasm where Halley is situated," explained BAS science director Prof David Vaughan.
'We have a network of about 15 GPS stations across the ice shelf surrounding Halley, and their data is essentially broadcast to us every day with one day's lag. And although, yes, down by the crack, there are changes - up by Halley, we've actually seen very little deformation of the ice," he told BBC News.
The Halley Automation Project
Started in January 2017, the Halley Automation Project aims to provides a micro-turbine power supply and datalink to a suite of autonomous scientific instrumentation around the Halley VI Research Station and on the Brunt Ice Shelf. This system will enable data collection throughout the Antarctic winter when the station may be unoccupied.
he automation platform at Halley  with Halley Automation project manager Thomas Barningham. The red ...
he automation platform at Halley, with Halley Automation project manager Thomas Barningham. The red container (left) is the electrical and network services, the green container (centre) is the micro-turbine and the white container (right) is the auto-Dobson.
BAS/ Thomas Barningham.
The big challenge facing the project starts right now because there will be no researchers on the ice shelf until BAS returns in November later this year. The prototype micro-turbine will have to run unattended for eight months of darkness, extreme cold, high winds and blowing snow.
Besides sending data on weather and climate, ozone and space weather data back to the U.K., the data also contributes to several international monitoring and prediction programs.
“We have had a successful summer field season at Halley, resuming scientific experiments and setting up our prototype automated power generation system. The station is proving to be capable of withstanding the harsh Antarctic winter without anyone living or working there," says Professor Vaughn.
"The changes to the ice shelf reminds us of the power of nature. I’m pleased that our engineering teams have come up with solutions to continue to run our experiments and data collection year round. The prototype is an extraordinary and exciting piece of development which, once tested, may have applications in similarly extreme environments.”
More about British Antarctic Survey, brunt ice shelf, unpredictable conditions, microturbine, constant monitoring
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