Thursday, 22 December 2011

Halley no 5

Here is a satellite image of the Brunt Iceshelf where Halley is located - if you need reminding where Halley is on a larger scale then I have put the globe view below. The Brunt iceshelf is about 50km wide and a 100km long, it is made of freshwater ice of about 200m thickness floating on the sea. If you made a 1 to million scale model it would be about the same size and thickness as a playing card. There has been a permanently manned research station here since 1956.


 One of the difficulties of building on a ice shelf is that the surface continuously accumulates. If you put something down on the Brunt iceshelf then a year later it will be a metre under the snow surface, another year later it will be another metre deeper and so on. This is exactly what happened to the first research station built here, it was buried and effectively crushed by the weight of the ice and snow above it. A series of research stations was built over the years, and despite being increasingly strong they all suffered the same fate - the weight of the ice and snow caused great crushing damage and it was difficult to operate a deeply buried station. In 1990 BAS built the 5th reincarnation of the Halley research station but on legs so that it kept clear of the ever increasing snow. Every year the station would be jacked up (the legs extended upwards and the whole station moved up the legs) to keep it at the same height above the snow. Here is what the main platform looked like in the 2001/2 season which is when I last visited Halley.

The second major difficulty of building on an iceshelf is that the ice flows, Halley V (as the 5th Halley is known) is moving closer to the iceberg calving point at about 350m per year. In fact it is already very close to a point known to be open water in 1958 (the earliest reliable ice edge survey), and this is why we need to build a new station, despite Halley V being in good condition. Once the construction of the new station started we stopped raising Halley V above the snow each year, and this is what it looks like now.


  1. Hi Mike. Good to see you have reached Halley OK.
    Hope the season goes well. I have put a link to your blog on the 2011 page of the Z-Fids website

  2. What happens to Halley 5 now will it all be buried for the interest of future archaeologists?

  3. Hello Grandpa Tony. The intention is to remove Halley V next season, or at least as much as we can do sensibly and safely. Certainly everything above surface will be removed, for things below surface (like the steel of the legs) its often more environmentally friendly to leave in place than burn huge amounts of vehicle fuel to dig them out. But we do remove what we can.