The Halley VI Antarctic research station will temporarily shut down from March to November, according to an press release from the British Antarctic Survey. The decision was made after growing cracks in the ice nearby raised concerns that a block could break off from the floating ice shelf in the Weddell Sea, where the station is located. 88 people are currently living at the station, with 16 scheduled to spend winter there.
Director of Operations for the British Antarctic Survey, Tim Stockings, said in a statement:
“We want to do the right thing for our people. Bringing them home for winter is a prudent precaution given the changes that our glaciologists have seen in the ice shelf in recent months. Our goal is to winterize the station and leave it ready for re-occupation as soon as possible after the Antarctic winter.”
Data and research from Halley Research station, a moveable facility on the Brunt Ice Shelf on the continent’s Caird Coast, led to the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer in 1985.
Parts of Antarctica, particularly in the western part of the continent, have become more vulnerable, and prone to instability, as a result of climate change. Even some glaciers in eastern Antarctica, where the research station is located, have become less stable recently. However, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey have indicated the cracks near the research station are most likely a natural occurrence. However, scientists have become concerned about the stability of the ice, and are in the process of moving the research station to a site further inland ahead of March.
The once dormant crack in the shelf began to grow in 2012, lengthening at rate of about one mile a year since then. The tip of the crack is now just 3.7 miles (6 kilometers), from Halley research station. Another crack appeared in October just a few miles further away from the station, and has also continued to lengthen.
Scientists have tried to assess whether a large chunk of ice is likely to break off, and how this would affect the rest of the ice shelf, using field measurements, satellite data, and computer modeling. While they did not find any immediate threats to the safety of the researchers, but the difficulty of performing a quick retrieval in the dark months of the Antarctic winter contributed to the decision to remove the staff for the winter.