Feb. 6, 2013 at 8:14 PM ET
The striking design of this new Antarctic research station isn't just for looks. The whole thing can be moved on its ski-like supports — and may need to, in order to avoid being stranded by breaking ice.
Halley VI, named (like the comet) after British astronomer Edmond Halley, is the sixth base to be built at the site since its founding in 1956. It was originally known as Halley Bay, but name had to change after the bay disappeared in 1977 due to the ice shifting substantially. The impermanent nature of the landscape makes it easy to understand why they eventually decided to make the whole building mobile.
There was a competition in 2004 to design the new station, and Hugh Broughton Architects won — but construction didn't begin until 2008, and only recently finished. Although the station has been occupied for testing and installation, Monday was the day it officially opened.
Up to 70 researchers and workers can stay in the £25.8 million (around $40 million) structure, working and living in its eight modules. Like its predecessor, the station is able to stay above the rising snowfall by raising up on huge "legs," giving it the air of a huge snow caterpillar.
But unlike Halley V, the new station isn't stuck in one place. It can't move on its own — all its modules are for research and housing; there's no engine — but the bottom of its supports are big skis that allow it to be towed by an enormous tractor.
That's important, since the ice shelf Halley VI is on is moving westward at around 700 meters (nearly half a mile) every year. To keep from becoming an iceberg-based research station, Halley VI can be towed inland whenever necessary, although it's not a trivial process.
Halley VI's construction has been documented extensively at this British Antarctic Survey blog, complete with hundreds of pictures. The denizens of Halley Station have also kept a "diary" since 2000, which has lots of interesting information on life there.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.