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Ice cracks force British Antarctic Survey to move its base

Ice cracks force British Antarctic Survey to move its base


They’re still deciding what to do about the experiments

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East Antarctic

The British Antarctic Survey will shut down its Halley base in Antarctica because of cracks in the ice under the station.

The station — which consists of eight pods mounted on legs — is located on the floating Brunt Ice Shelf on Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. Nobody is in immediate danger, but the base could be destroyed if the cracks get bigger. So, BAS is relocating the base about 14 miles away from the cracks and also shutting it down from March to November.

There are two cracks in the ice. One is a a chasm underneath the pods that’s been there for years, but really started to enlarge in 2012. The more immediate problem is a new crack that’s 24 miles long and located about 10 miles northeast of the base. Scientists are monitoring this crack with sensors on both sides.

Researchers at Halley gather climate data and also study solar activity. It typically hosts almost 20 permanent winter staff who monitor experiments. BAS hasn’t yet decided whether the experiments will be shut down, or if they can be left to run unsupervised.

BAS director of operations, Captain Tim Stockings, says that the move is a precaution — since winter would make a rescue mission difficult if anything goes wrong. “What we've decided is that given the unpredictability, combined with our inability to do anything about it in winter - no aircraft in the continent, it's dark, it's very cold; all those kinds of issues - then actually the prudent thing to do is withdraw our staff, close the station down in a controlled manner and then go back in next summer," he told BBC News.

This is the latest somber ice-related news coming from the poles. Last year, a bleak-looking graph of sea ice had Twitter in a frenzy. A chunk of ice the size of India has also melted near the Antarctic. For years, climate skeptics argued that the growing Antarctic sea ice disproved climate change. But now ice at both poles is at record lows, and the effects of this are just starting to be felt.