The British Antarctic Survey has announced the result of its competition to design a new research base on the frozen continent. The winning proposal offers researchers the opportunity to live in elevated modules perched on skis.
The station, which will weigh less than 800 tonnes, will sit nearly 4 metres above the snow, and is aerodynamically designed so that winds accelerate under it, sweeping loose snow away. As the overall snow level steadily rises, the building will be raised on extendable legs by a metre every year.
Thanks to the skis, the station can also be towed across the ice. The structure will be built on the Brunt Ice Shelf, which flows some 400 metres towards the sea each year. Initially positioned some 30 kilometres inland, the building will need to be moved some time within the next 10 to 20 years.
The station will replace the Halley V Research Station, the research base where the Antarctic ozone hole was first discovered. That building is now edging perilously close to the sea: scientists predict that a huge iceberg will break off from the shelf sometime around 2010, potentially taking the station with it.
By Michael Hopkin