July 18, 2005

Ice base on skis wins Antarctic competition

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Designed to cope with one of the most
inhospitable environments on Earth, the winner announced on
Tuesday of an international competition to build a new ice
station in Antarctica resembles a giant blue centipede.

British Antarctic Survey's Halley VI station will not only
be on a floating ice shelf that will flow out to sea and break
up, but it will host scientists all year long in temperatures
that range from minus 5 degrees to minus 40 degrees Centigrade
(40 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit).

The winning design was by the Faber Maunsell and Hugh
Broughton Architects consortium and consists of a long,
segmented body held high off the ground by adjustable legs on
skis so it can be periodically towed back toward land.

It beat off designs from two other finalists, one of which
was for a "walking" building and the other for a building that
appeared to hover on legs above the ice.

"This was an incredibly tough choice for the jury panel to
make," said BAS director Chris Rapley. "The process ... was
stimulating and exciting for everyone involved."

The design specifications for the 19 million pounds ice
station on the Brunt ice shelf are among the most exacting on
the planet.

It must it be home to a crew of scientists that dwindles to
16 in the southern hemisphere winter when there is no daylight
for three months and booms to 60 in the summer months, and it
has to rise above the 1.5 meters of snow that falls each year.

At the same time every nut and bolt must be shipped in and,
when the station comes to the end of its anticipated 20-year
life, everything must be shipped out again to leave no trace of
its existence on the pristine continent.

Four of the previous Halley ice stations dating back to the
1950s have slowly been buried by the snow and crushed by the
ice as it travels northwest at the rate of 400 meters a year
and gradually breaks up at its seaward edge.

The Halley V station it will replace by December 2008 also
has adjustable legs and is the only one not to have been

However, it faces another problem. Scientists predict that
the ice shelf will halve within the next decade and the section
of ice on which Halley V sits will simply float away.

The new, towable ice station should be able to avoid such
problems by simply moving out of the danger area, allowing
scientists to carry on vital research at the site where the
hole in the ozone layer was first discovered.