More than 80 members of the British Antarctic Survey team at the Halley VI Research Station were forced to relocate when a 30-mile crack opened along an ice shelf.
The crack, which opened up 10 miles away from the station, has the potential to split a massive segment of ice off and set it adrift as an iceberg, taking the station with it.
Antarctica is currently in summer, and British researchers cautioned that waiting until the colder months set in could have made safe extraction “extremely difficult.” The station is a mobile ski-top lab that can be repositioned, and it is expected to be relaunched in 10 months — in a different location.
Ice cracks in the Antarctic are not as common as in the Arctic, where population, ocean currents, and adjoining land masses bring warming temperatures to frozen areas more quickly. And ice shelf breaks are not necessarily a signal of climate damage — in fact, typically, ice sheets, which form over water rather than land, frequently break from growth as they stretch farther into the ocean.
2016 was recently declared the hottest year on record (again; the third in a row), but the line from climate change to this ice crack is not direct. Antarctic ice shelves have actually experienced overall growth on a few occasions in recent years, despite massive melts in other cold areas like the Arctic, thanks in large part to natural protections from oceanic currents. Still, Antarctic ice melts and breakaways — especially those involving land ice — are a significant concern for rising ocean levels over the next century.
Of course, that’s why scientists are in the Antarctic in the first place: to study environmental conditions. Halley Research Stations (there have been several) are famous for achievements like the discovery of the ozone hole in the 1980s.
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