Cracks in ice force UK Antarctic station to move | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 18.01.2017
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Cracks in ice force UK Antarctic station to move

A break in the ice has forced the British Antarctic Survey to temporarily withdraw its staff from the futuristic Haley VI research station. The whole complex is to be shifted to a spot where it won't drift away.

The futuristic blue and red modules of the Halley VI research station certainly make an impressive sight, perched as they are on stilts with giant skis.

The structure is now on the move, little by little, to a point 23 kilometers (14 miles) inland, away from two cracks in the Brunt Ice Shelf that gave cause for concern.

So far, seven of the eight modules have been shifted by tractor some 23 kilometers inland, away from two cracks in the ice - one of which is a little over 7 kilometers away.

The emerging fissures in the ice presented "a complex glaciological picture," that British Antarctic Survey (BAS) couldn't ignore. Bosses had to take a decision about the safety of the 16 staff due to stay on through the winter, with fears that the station would be left floating and cut off from its supply route.

While it's not a problem to evacuate staff in Antarctica's summer months, things get more difficult in winter. Access from sea is more difficult as coastal waters freeze, and the 24-hours of darkness also don't help things.

A Halloween scare 

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Drone footage shows massive crack in the Antarctic ice

The latest crack to have emerged in the Brunt Ice Shelf is known as the "Halloween Crack," after it was discovered on October 31.

"There is no immediate risk to the people currently at the station, or to the station itself," the BAS said in a statement. "There is sufficient uncertainty about what could happen to the ice during the coming Antarctic winter for BAS to change its operational plans."

The moving operation requires a lot of manpower. There are currently 88 people at Halley VI, and most of them are involved in the summer operation to move the station.

It was assembled in 2012, being the sixth Halley research station Britain has had on the Brunt Ice Shelf. Among the achievements off the other Halley stations was the discovery of the Antarctic Ozone Hole in 1985.

Amid concern over rising Antarctic temperatures, more and more fissures appear to be emerging in the ice shelves around Antarctica. Earlier this month, a British research group warned that a 5,000-square-kilometer ice block on the Larsen C ice shelf is primed to break away. 

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