Thirteen members of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) were trapped and in danger of freezing to death when their base, Halley VI, lost power. Power went down on July 30th and is now partially restored. The BAS waited to report the incident until power came back up, however now reports that the incident was so serious that all science activities have been suspended and emergency contingency plans to abandon some of Halley’s eight modules and attempt to shelter in a remaining few have been prepared.
The incident is particularly serious, as the station is likely completely cut off from rescue for months.
The incident occurred during the height of the Antarctic winter while southern sea ice is at or near record highs (Marc Morano has details at Climate Depot).
One Survey member, Anthony Lister, managed to send a out a “tweet” when power came back up, reporting that the outage occurred while the station was experiencing record cold temperatures of -55.4° C (-67.72° F). (h/t Rai news)
It is not possible to survive for long at the station without power, placing the 13 members of the expedition in danger of freezing to death, although they remain safe while they can keep the power running.
Halley VI is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf on 150 meter thick ice, just off the coast of Antarctica. Temperature there never climbs above freezing and this time of year the sun never climbs above the horizon.
Halley VI became operational in 2012 and consists of eight modules supported by hydraulic legs on skis. The skis are designed to permit the BAS to periodically reposition the station using bulldozers in the hopes of escaping the fate of past stations which were lost when they became buried under vast accumulations of ice and snow. In the past the station was a major source of reporting on the Antarctic “ozone hole.”
The Halley VI power loss serves as a stark reminder of the incredibly harsh and dangerous cold conditions Antarctic researchers brave. It also can’t help but remind us of Chris Turney’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition which became trapped in rapidly expanding sea ice last December. Drama ensued when both the ice breaker carrying the expedition and the ice breaker initially sent to rescue it both became trapped. A third ice breaker was ultimately able to evacuate the passengers using a helicopter.
While the BAS researchers stationed at Halley VI have a higher degree of professionalism and are better prepared, their situation will be far more dire should they lose power again. Halley VI is located beyond the likely ability of rescuers to reach it until this year’s particularly cold and harsh Antarctic winter subsides.
Let’s all send our hopes and prayers that the BAS team at Halley VI will be able to keep the power running and remain safe until conditions improve and they can be reached.