Of ice and men

The BBC Horizon programme Antarctica: Ice Station Rescue, shown last night, was superb. Film maker Natalie Hewit spent three months in the Antarctic, covering the move of the Halley VI station to the far side of a crevasse.

And she got more than she bargained for. While she was there, a new crack (the Halloween crack) opened up and created such a degree of uncertainty that the British Antarctic survey decided to evacuate the station for the winter.

The 'normal' process of the move was itself fascinating. The station has been moved once already, but that was immediately following construction. There were no occupants to be decanted to tents, as happened this time. And all the systems were clean. This time we saw plumbers draining the last drops of smelly waste from soil pipes as the modules were disconnected.

We also saw what a big deal the abandonment was. Of course other stations are 'summer only' and mothballed for the winter. But this was never the plan for Halley. The team were bitterly disappointed, the tradition of continuous monitoring of atmospheric data had to be abandoned (this is after all where the hole in the ozone layer was first found) and, crucially, this magnificent and adaptable building had to be left empty and cold in a way that was never intended.

It was obviously a very hard decision for BAS but it really had no alternative. The problem was that the unforseen could well occur and there is just no way to rescue people in the winter. We just have to hope that the building, having been moved with such care, survives its lonely winter. 

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