Antarctic Station Survival: Modular Units on Skis

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A new type of Antarctic research station appears to be more likely to survive the harsh polar conditions over a longer period of time, than its predecessors.

Accumulating snow and ice along with movement of ice toward the sea, have combined to destroy earlier research stations in the UK Halley series. The new improved station — built in Capetown, South Africa, will be able to ride on top of accumulating snow, and can be transported by way of skis built under its hydraulic legs.

In June 2004, the British Antarctic Survey and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) launched a competition to design a new research station. In addition to being able to cope with moving ice and heavy snow accumulation, this new station would have to provide psychological comfort to the station’s residents—around 70 in summer and around 16 in winter—who are at great risk of stress and depression related to the harsh Antarctic weather and permanent lack of sunlight in winter.

Halley VI, commissioned in 2006, consists of eight connected modules, each of which sits atop hydraulic legs. The legs allow the individual modules to be raised above the snow. Additionally, placement of the modules at a right angle to the prevailing wind encourages snow to blow underneath the station. Skis positioned beneath the legs allow inland towing of each module, thereby minimizing its proximity to the ocean. _PO

A similar approach could be taken in building a private Antarctic colony. Portability and the ability to move independently of the underlying snow and ice is a significant advantage for long term survivability of any polar structure.

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