SOMETIME BETWEEN NOW and 2015, several dozen square miles of Antarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf will likely slough off into the Weddell Sea, taking with it the British Antarctic Survey's storied Halley V Research Station, which has been in operation in one form or another since 1956.
So the Halley VI, a $74 million, 720-ton complex that can house an international crew of up to 56 cold-weather data crunchers, is getting built just in time, with a test module being constructed this winter and full deployment starting in October. But this station will be more akin to Battlestar Galactica than the fluorescent-lit double-wides that have passed for research centers in the past. The modular base, which will start with eight pods but can be expanded, will be built on steel skis, so that the units can be reconfigured, raised or lowered depending on snow depth, and towed to safer ground, in case the big ice crack cometh.
The two-story central module will housea climbing wall, television lounge, kitchen, gym, game room, music room, and sauna;a glass atrium that will simulate natural daylight to help combat depression during the dark winter months; and a hydroponic vegetable garden that will replace the previous stations' canned veggies. Four aviation-fuel generators will power the base and will come equipped with hookups for futureadditions of wind- and solar-power units.
The south side will house all of the station's science facilities, while the north side will be home to 16 year-round residents and up to 40 summer visitors, all of whom will have to venture outdoors to get to the labs. But that's not a design flaw. "Maintaining the feeling of that walk to work is something we found is important to residents there," explains Peter Ayres, the design team director for Halley VI. "They want to avoid the feeling of living and working in the same bubble all the time." And, we suspect, they're hoping the 400-foot commute will lead to a snow day or two.