Britain’s Spaceship Looking Antarctic Research Station

Antarctica is on Earth, but it feels alien—a vast, cold, rapidly melting desert populated by scientists and emperor penguins. So it makes sense that today’s Antarctic research stations look a lot like spaceships: They’re often the only things protecting their inhabitants from inhospitable places people really shouldn’t be living in.

Caption: The bright red module of Halley VI, Britain’s Antarctic research station, houses a dining area, a pool table, a gym, a TV lounge, and presumably a well-stocked bar. credits: James Morris  

Only recently, though, they’ve become works of fine art, and Ice Station, a book out today about Britain’s newest station, helps drive that point home. When London architect Hugh Broughton planned Halley VI, he had to design his way around a tricky site. The Halley stations rest on an ice shelf 400 feet thick, inexorably floating west into the Weddell Sea. Sometimes, the ice calves—bad news for anything sitting on top of it. Accumulated snow crushed four of the station’s previous incarnations (Halleys I through IV); the British Antarctic Survey abandoned Halley V when it moved too far away from the mainland.

Caption: The station’s parts traveled by cargo ship to Antarctica, where a construction crew assembled each module and pulled them to their site nine miles away.credits: British Antarctic Survey   


Caption: The eight modules that make up Halley VI are each dedicated to a particular function: science, sleeping, socializing, or generating power. credits : James Morris

Caption: Reinforced steel structures help the station withstand Antarctica’s fierce storms.credits: Antony Dubber

Broughton and his team solved these problems by quite literally running away from them: They set Halley VI on hydraulic stilts on top of giant skis. When summer comes around, technicians raise the stilts one at a time and pack snow underneath, to prevent the station from getting buried. The wide steel strips are perfect for making a quick getaway when things turn dicey, and allow scientists to periodically drag the modules of the station to their proper place.

Caption: Hydraulic legs keep the station from getting buried by snow, while flat, wide skis allow the station to move when the ice beneath it threatens to split. credits : James Morris    

Caption: A bridge links the station’s energy modules, which also houses a sewage treatment plant and generates water by melting snow in melt tanks.
credits : James Morris

Halley VI sits on that precarious sheet of ice because it’s directly underneath the auroral oval, a prime place to monitor the ozone layer (the research station discovered the hole back in 1985), study the chemical interactions between air and snow, and see crazy beautiful auroras. Completed in 2012, the station contains a climate observatory with a spectrophotometer and a 360-degree view.

Caption: A climate observatory in the science module provides a 360-degree view of the vast nothingness that is the Brunt Ice Shelf. A spectrophotometer takes ozone readings.credits: James Morris

The first Halley station was essentially a wooden hut. Fifty-six years later, its successor is comfortable enough to alleviate the intense psychological strain that comes with living in a tiny lab in the remotest place on Earth. To fend off sensory deprivation, the designers chose comforting colors and installed wall panels of scented Lebanese cedar. A bright red social module, centrally located and larger than the other modules, includes a dining area, games and a gym.

Caption: Researchers and technicians unwind in the social module.credits: James Morris

Caption: The compact bedrooms come equipped with a fixture that simulates daylight, to combat seasonal affective disorder. credits:James Morris 

Caption: The architects hired a color consultant to choose interior décor that was calm and comforting—very important for residents facing a grim Antarctic winter. credits:James Morris   

And if scientists and technicians need to let off a bit more steam, the module also, helpfully, houses a very nice bar.

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