Just over a century after Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic expedition came to a tragic close, Britain’s latest and greatest Antarctic Research Station has opened and will become fully operational over the coming weeks. The £25.8 million (US$40.6 million) facility was designed by Hugh Broughton Architects and engineering firm AECOM, and represents a continued commitment from the UK's scientific community to maintain a cutting-edge facility in the region.

As we first reported back in 2005, the new self-sufficient research station replaces the 20-year old Halley V installation, and is the sixth such facility to occupy the floating Brunt Ice Shelf. The region has been occupied by British science stations since a Royal Society expedition in 1957 was launched to study the Earth’s magnetic field and near-space atmosphere. Data from the Halley research station led directly to the 1985 British Antarctic Survey (BAS) discovery of the ozone hole.

In order to cope with the extreme conditions, which include prevailing winds of up to 90 mph (145 km/h) and an average external temperature of minus 30ºC (minus 22°F), Halley VI has been designed to be extremely rugged, and raised sufficiently high to stay above heavy annual snowfall.

Halley VI is mounted on what are essentially hydraulically-elevated skis. This allows the laboratory to be periodically towed by specialist bulldozers in order to avoid becoming stranded on an iceberg broken off from the floating Brunt Ice Shelf as it moves inexorably toward the sea at a rate of 400 meters (1,300 feet) per annum.

Halley VI is the most southerly research station currently operated by the BAS and access to the facility is limited to just three months per year. This ensured a challenging construction process which spanned four Antarctic summers – each build period lasting nine weeks. Materials and components were delivered across treacherous sea ice and construction teams worked around the clock.

The research station comprises two main platforms, each of which has three interconnected modules. The northern platform provides primary accommodation and features an observation lounge which will afford dramatic panoramic views of the landscape, while its counterpart offers additional room for summer visitors.

In the center of the facility, a two-story large red unit contains a social space designed for the wellbeing of the crew, complete with a hydroponic salad garden and climbing wall.

“The long-term research investigations carried out at Halley since the 1950s have led to deeper understanding of our world,” explained Professor Alan Rodger, Interim Director of BAS. “In half a century, society has been alerted to our changing climate, about the possibility that melting ice in the Polar Regions will increase sea-level rise, and that human activity can have an impact on the natural environment.”

Sources: Hugh Broughton Architects, British Antarctic Survey via io9