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Ski Base Wins Polar Competition

One much forgotten chunk of land of the former British Empire is set to get a new research and living facility as the current one on the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica reaches its sell by date, with the announcement of the winners of an international competition which attracted 86 separate entries, to provide a new base for the British Antarctic Survey at Halley VI.

The winners Hugh Broughton Architects and scientific laboratory designers Faber Maunsell have come up with a design that will provide live/work facilities for 16 people during the winter and 52 in the summer months when the base resources are less stretched.

The new station is to be built on two main platforms, each with six interconnected modules. The north platform is the principle year round accommodation building. The southern platform houses extra accommodation for the extra influx of summer visitors and most importantly the science modules.

Some have compared living in the South Pole to living in space, and the modular design borrows similar principles from such projects as the International Space Station where new buildings can ultimately be added and linked in to the main complex should the need be there without exposing inhabitants to the outside environment as they move around the complex. To give some idea of just what is faced it has been designed to withstand temperatures as low as -56 c and routine winds of 90 miles per hour.

Taking the modular theme a step further all structural support is provided by an external frame and the lack of any internal structure means that the interior can be arranged however the inhabitants wish making them highly adaptable for future demands.

Despite the extreme conditions the station occupants will be able to indulge in that traditional British love - gardening. The main atrium will contain a hydroponics centre capable of growing the winter crew up to 3 fresh salads a week.

Inspite of the heavily utlitarian interior design belonging to something from 2001 Space Odessy, some thought has been placed on aesthetics inside with the link areas of modules to be decorated in striking colours to help maintain the good mood of their occupiers, particularly in the long, dark winter.

The main two storey module contains a helical stair reaching up through to a glazed atrium which will allow it to be bathed with sunlight in the summer. The winter will see blinds acting as a screen for color change lights that will emulate the changing light in the day of a more temperate climate and help provide stimulation for the circadian rhythm.

The upper deck of the module will house a TV lounge, library and office but station inhabitants will have many other of the latest mod cons at their disposal in the central hub. These include a dining room, and spaces for arts and crafts, a pool table, table tennis, and even a double height climbing wall for physical exercise. There will also be a gym, sauna, hydrotherapy bath and music room included in other modules.

Two of the modules will contain evacuated tube solar/thermal collectors to augment the hot water heating during the summer months taking advantage of 24 hour daylight and assisting the power generation. During the winter where there is no daylight for 3 months, high efficiency combined heat and power generators fuelled with AVTUR diesel will kick in to provide extra energy.

The main previous problems with bases on this location apart from the extreme weather has been the moving ice which travels at a rate of 400 metres a year at an uneven rate meaning that any permanent station risks ending up in the cold sea.

As a solution to tackle this, the architects have come up with a novel and yet obvious solution of sitting the entire project on mechanical legs which sit on skis raising the buildings off the ice like a centipede. This will allow it to be repositioned by simply shunting it with a bulldozer every so often to maintain a permanent location.

The completed modules will weigh around 60 tonnes but are light enough to be towed to a new site by two D5 bulldozers whilst the larger central module will weigh 120 tonnes, and will need four D5 bulldozers to tow it.

Thanks to the extreme conditions faced there has to be completed in a two month time frame as to take advantage of the "summer" where temperatures reach a boiling minus 5 centigrade.

To add to the logistical difficulties, every single thing from materials to builders will have to be shipped over 10,000 miles including the construction and then complete removal of a base camp for the builders.

The entire project will be prefabricated in the U.K for easily assembly once it reaches the site and likewise as it reaches the end of its life can simply be taken down and moved back home. The mechanical legs on which the base sits, are designed by Bennett Associates of the Falkirk Wheel fame. These also make it easier to build with only three workers taking a week to raise the station rather than six workers taking three months as happened with the previous design.

Even the waste created by the station will be dealt with by the on-site sewage plant which will incinerate most rubbish so when the time comes to build a new station not a trace will be left of the previous one on the pristine landscape at the end of their projected 20 year life.

This will be the sixth such base that the British Antarctic Survey has had on the 150 metre thick Brunt Ice Shelf since 1956 which has been the location of many scientific discoveries, perhaps the most famous of which was the hole appearing in the Earth's ozone layer.

Work is expected to begin in 18 months time with construction of a test module before in 2006.

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Falkirk Wheel
Halley VI Antarctic Base
Halley VI Antarctic Base
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Scientific module cross section Halley VI Antarctic Base
Scientific module cross section Halley VI Antarctic Base
Standard module cross section Halley VI Antarctic Base
Standard module cross section Halley VI Antarctic Base
Halley VI Antarctic Base
Halley VI Antarctic Base