Cracking ice forces winter closure of UK Antarctic base

UK research station Halley VI in Antarctica (British Antarctic Survey)
Sixteen people were scheduled to winter over this season (British Antarctic Survey)

The UK will be closing one of their Antarctic bases this winter, breaking the British Antarctic Survey's (BAS) continuous 60-year operation in the area.

It comes as the BAS relocates the Halley VI station due to a threatening chasm at its old location.

But even the new spot, 23km away, isn't free from danger. A 44km crack in the Brunt ice shelf means the BAS has decided to shut down this winter for safety.

Ice cracks and chasms threatening the Halley VI research station (British Antarctic Survey)
Ice cracks and chasms are threatening the research station (British Antarctic Survey)

Sixteen people were scheduled to winter over this season, but they'll all be brought home by early March as a precautionary measure.

"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 says.

The crack was first noticed last October and glaciologists monitoring the situation say they can't reliably predict whether a large iceberg will calve during the winter.

BAS says staff can be easily evacuated during the summer season, but once winter begins it's a different situation.

With 24-hour darkness, frozen sea and incredibly low temperatures, evacuations are incredibly difficult.

"Our goal is to winterise the station and leave it ready for re-occupation as soon as possible after the Antarctic winter," Capt Stockings says.

The Halley VI research station sits on the floating Brunt ice shelf and is in the process of being shifted away from a growing chasm in the ice.

The UK will continue its Antarctic research with its Rothera station over this winter, which is located on the Antarctic Peninsula.