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Science shut down at crippled UK Antarctic base

UPDATE – 12/8

The British Antarctic Survey has confirmed that the problem at the base was caused by a coolant leak in the heating systems, which prompted the generators to overheat and shut down.

“Scientific instruments that are used for atmospheric research remain switched off so that the electrical energy can be used to heat the living accommodation,” said BAS in the 12 August update. “Planned station engineering and research for the forthcoming season is being rescheduled.”

Original story

Science has ground to a halt at the UK’s Halley Research Station in Antarctica in the wake of a mysterious power failure.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which runs the station, says that staff on the site are safe but are still attempting to determine the exact cause of “a serious operational incident” on 30 July that took down both electrical and heating systems.

The Halley Research Station just recorded a record low temperature

The Halley Research Station just recorded a record low temperature

British Antarctic Survey

Although some power and heating has been restored, “all science, apart from meteorological observations essential for weather forecasting, has been stopped”, says a BAS statement. Exactly what this will mean for ongoing research is unclear, but the BAS say it is likely that ozone monitoring, meteorology related to climate science and studies of the upper atmosphere used for forecasting space weather have all been disrupted.

As it is currently winter in Antarctica, the base was not fully operational, but still had 13 staff maintaining various functions through the seasonal darkness. Two staff members tweeted that during the power outage, the base recorded its lowest ever outside temperature: –55.4 degrees Celsius.

“Throwing a cup of boiling water into the air resulted in a small explosion as the water instantly turned into a cloud of ice crystals. This obviously didn’t help us on station at the time but it was nice to see a record set!” wrote Anthony Lister, an electrical engineer at Halley, on his blog.


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