It seems we’ve been hearing a lot about the shifting ice sheets in the Antarctic lately. Last week we learned that climate change is causing those sheets to collapse into the sea, and a few days ago I posted a story about a 300-foot (91 meter) crack that was causing another ice shelf to begin its inevitable drop into the ocean as well. Now, we have yet another story of the ice breaking apart on the frozen continent, and this time it is threatening an actual research station that will now be relocated to avoid disaster.
Yesterday, the British Antarctic Survey announced that it was relocating its mobile Halley VI research station due to the possibility that the ice shelf it is resting on could break off and fall into the sea. If that were to happen, the station currently finds itself on the wrong side of the crack that is developing across East Antarctica, and it would end up floating off into the Southern Ocean along with the massive iceberg. To avoid this, the base – which was designed to be moveable – will be towed 23 km (14 miles) inland to a safer position.
The Halley VI has been in its current position since it was first constructed on the ice back in 2012. It rests on the Brunt Ice Shelf, where it has been conducting research on climate change, the ozone layer, and various other environmental projects over the past few years. One of the things that scientists have discovered is that a nearby crack in the ice – believed dormant for more than 35 years – has begun to widen, and the entire shelf could calve off into the ocean.
Now that the Antarctic summer has arrived, a team of engineers has traveled to the base to begin uncoupling its 8 different modules, and start the slow process of relocating the station. While they do that, scientists will continue to conduct research at is current site in temporary facilities before moving back into the Halley VI next year.
I had two take aways from this story. First, this seems like yet another sign of climate change having a dramatic impact of the Antarctic with the third story of massive chunks of ice potentially calving into the sea in less than a week. And secondly, I’m impressed at the foresight of the engineers who designed and built the station to be able to move it relatively easily. Yes, it is a massive undertaking to relocate the base, but in doing so they are saving millions of dollars and allowing important research there to continue. It is a pretty impressive feat of engineering to put this base together in such an extreme place, and to move it is no less impressive.
It appears that Antarctica is going through a dramatic shift right now, and there probably isn’t a thing we can do to stop it.
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