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New dawn in the Antarctic

THE new, ultra-modern Halley VI research station in Antarctica has just become fully operational, signalling what the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) describes as "a new dawn" for polar research.

Construction of the Halley VI station has been documented by Kirk Watson, a Scottish mountaineering cameraman
Construction of the Halley VI station has been documented by Kirk Watson, a Scottish mountaineering cameraman

Building the station was no ordinary construction job. It took place in a region so inhospitable that the nearest habitable area was thousands of miles away – in Cape Town, South Africa.

There were four "build seasons" over four years, each lasting just nine weeks. During the construction temperatures often dropped to at least -30C. Blizzards complicated matters further still.

Opening a century after Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expedition, the facility demonstrates the UK's ambition to remain at the forefront of scientific endeavour. It replaces the 20-year-old Halley V facility and is the sixth to be built on the floating Brunt Ice Shelf.

Kirk Watson, an Aviemore-based climbing cameraman and photographer, chronicled the construction over the last four years. Watson, 36, who last year shot South Of Sanity, the first feature film to be made in the Antarctic, said: "The first 'season' was one of the coldest, which was particularly bad as all the work was outside.

"At either end of the season the days used to start in the -30s, warming up to -15 by lunchtime, and cooling down again to -30 by the end of the day. My camera was often caked in three or four millimetres of ice, though it managed to survive."

Watson has worked with BAS in various capacities over the last eight years, initially as a mountain instructor. "They didn't want a camera crew down there, because they would then have to employ someone to look after them," he said. "In addition, there wasn't much extra room there, either.

"Half my contract involved me doing the mountaineering instruction, flying in aeroplanes and accompanying scientists on different tasks. The other half involved recording the actual construction."

All eight modules of the new Halley VI are supported on hydraulic legs and on huge skis, which enable them to be raised above the annual snowfall, and when appropriate to be towed closer to land.

Professor Alan Rodger, interim director of BAS, said: "The long-term research investigations carried out at Halley since the 1950s have led to deeper understanding of our world."

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