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Brief for a research outpost

BAS conducts wideranging environmental and climatic research from its outpost on the Brunt Ice Shelf, approximately 1,200km south of the Falkland Islands. It was at Halley that the hole in the atmosphere's ozone layer was first recorded, and the station is at the forefront of monitoring climate change.

The first of five Halley research stations was a wooden hut, built on the ice in 1957. Within a decade it had been entirely subsumed by snow, which accumulates at a rate of 1m-1.5m a year. Subsequent research stations were toughened to withstand burial but all succumbed to the crushing force of the snow above.

BAS's current research station, Halley V, was built in 1991 on stilts, so it could be jacked above rising snow every year. Though labour intensive, requiring 16 welders to extend the legs and 40 BAS staff to help with the jacking, Halley V has stayed clear of drifts. However, it faces a different danger.

Ice is not static. On the Brunt Ice Shelf it flows at a rate of 400m a year. The pulverised remains of several early Halley stations have already been spat out at the shelf's cliff-like edge into the ocean, and Halley V has also moved steadily seaward.

'In 2002 we became concerned that the Brunt Ice Shelf would calve sometime after 2010, ' says Tuplin. The 150m thick chunk of ice on which Halley V sits will shear away from the rest of the Antarctic ice mass and disintegrate into a sea of icebergs.

BAS held an international design competition for a structure that would set new survival standards demanding that Halley VI should be jackable and relocateable, to increase its life expectancy.

'You might wonder why we couldn't relocate our research station to somewhere more stable. Not everywhere has the same snow accumulation and ice ow issues, ' Tuplin says. 'But all of the world's models on the thickness of the ozone layer are calibrated to data gathered at Halley. That makes it crucial to maintain Halley as a fixed geographical point. It's crucial to ongoing research.' BAS also set stringent standards for fuel economy and waste minimisation. And it set out to bring something entirely new to life in the Antarctic ? comfort.

'People's expectations are getting higher all the time. It's difcult to attract scientists to work in an extremely demanding environment. We want the best scientists, so we're setting out to offer the best facilities, ' Tuplin says.

Tuplin adds that BAS wanted innovation, 'but we defined innovation as using tried and tested technologies in new ways.

We can't take chances on new technologies. We need to know that whatever we use in Antarctica will work well and work first time, because you can't nip to the hardware shop for spares or replacements'. A design developed by Faber Maunsell with architect Hugh Broughton was eventually selected in August 2005.

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