Halley VI Antarctic research station

Year:2012

Duration:4 years (summer only)

Cost:£25.6m

Country: Antartica

What did this project achieve?

Design the Antarctic research base so that it can be easily moved if the ice breaks

Antarctica is a unique and unspoilt environment, ideal for studying many earth sciences – including ecology, biodiversity and climate change.

By 2004 the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research base Halley V was in danger of being cast adrift when the ice shelf 'calved'. Calving means the ice shelf splits and forms a new iceberg.

BAS launched an international competition to design a new base: Halley VI.

The new base had to withstand extreme temperatures of minus 56C and high winds of up to 100mph. It also needed to have a small environmental footprint.

As the base is occupied all year round – including during the long, dark, Antarctic winter – it also had to be a pleasant place to live in.

Most importantly, the BAS wanted their new research station to be fully relocatable inland if there was a chance of it being lost through calving.

Difference the new design made

The previous 5 Halley bases had to be dismantled or abandoned when shifting ice threatened their destruction.

Halley VI can be dragged on retractable skis – meaning the base can be relocated to avoid movement in the Antarctic ice. Halley VI is safer and can last longer than its predecessors.

How the modules were made

Faber Maunsell Architects (now AECOM) and Hugh Broughton Architects won the design competition.

The Faber/Broughton design saw Halley VI as a series of modules containing separate work, living and eating areas. There was also a medical centre and air traffic control system.

All the modules were constructed from a robust steel structure clad in highly insulated fibreglass panels. Interior colour schemes were bright and cheerful to combat the effects of seasonal affective disorder.

Like its predecessor, Halley VI sits on hydraulic legs to lift it out of the snow. Without hydraulics, the average 1.5m of snow drift a year would eventually bury the structure.

Halley VI has skis attached to each hydraulic leg. These allow the base to be dragged to another location if there's a chance of calving in the area.

Components for the base had to be moved to the construction site over thin sea ice just 1 metre thick. This meant no single load could be heavier than 6 tonnes.

Most of the base was prefabricated in South Africa to save time. Finished pieces were delivered to Antarctica by cargo ship.

Construction could only happen in the summer months – about 12 weeks a year. Halley VI was built over 4 years. The base was operational in 2012 and officially opened in 2013.

"​‌

A triumph of British design, innovation and engineering.

David Willetts

former minister for universities and science

Fascinating facts

Britain has had a manned research station on the Brunt Ice Shelf since 1956.

Halley VI is a totally self-supporting, infrastructure free community.

The base is split in two in case of emergencies. Each side is self-sustaining and has its own energy centre.

People who made it happen

  • Designers: Faber Maunsell Architects (now AECOM) and Hugh Broughton Architects
  • Builders: Galliford Try plc

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