Antarctic ice crack forces temporary base evacuation
Tuesday, January 17, 2017, 3:53 PM - A rapidly growing crack in an Antarctic ice shelf is forcing a temporary evacuation of scientists at a research base operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
The survey says there is no current risk to the base's staff, and they will be removed by March, essentially putting an end to overwintering plans and leaving the station non-functional until November.
The BAS operates the Halley VI Research Station, which was already in the process of being prepared for a move to a new site 23 km away, with an eye toward a "previously dormant ice chasm" that started showing renewed signs of life in 2012. But in October 2016, a second crack opened up about 17 km away from the base, whose potential future behaviour worried the BAS.
"Changes to the ice, particularly the growth of a new crack, presents a complex glaciological picture that means that BAS scientists are unable to predict with certainty what will happen to the ice shelf during the forthcoming Antarctic winter," a release from the BAS says. "As a precautionary measure BAS will remove its people before the Antarctic winter begins."
The BAS says evacuating personnel during the summer months would be much easier than attempting an exodus in the winter, which is marked by weeks of near-total darkness and more extensive sea ice.
The station is specifically designed to be moved as needed, given its location on an active ice shelf rather than on Antarctica's mainland proper, and BAS staff say the relocation work is going as planned, with completion by March 2017.
"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," Director of Operations Captain Tim Stockings said in a release. "Our goal is to winterize the station and leave it ready for re-occupation as soon as possible after the Antarctic winter."
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SOURCE: British Antarctic Survey