Antarctic Life

A frozen outlook on life on the ice

Wednesday Walkaround: Week 2 - Keeping the Elements Outside

Halley VI, Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica 75°36'36"S 26°16'14"W

Temperature: -25.8°C

Wind Speed: 10 kts S


This week will be a slightly shorter Wednesday Walkaround talking about keeping the elements outside. The modules are designed much like any extreme environment and has obvious similarities to a space environment, either a spacecraft or station, or indeed, when the time comes, to an outpost on another planet or moon.

The massive airlock style doors8 inches of steel keeping us from the outside

One of the ways to keep the elements out but still allowing easy access in and out of the station are the heavy airlock style doors which are a massive 20cm/8 inches thick. Each of the 7 external doors are designed this way, and whilst they look cumbersome are actually relatively light and easy to open. In the case of the boot rooms, there is small inner room before entering the station proper, whereas with the other 5, they open directly into one of the main corridors or rooms (either side of the station, on either side of the bridge and in the upper observation room at the end).

A side-on view of the doorsYou can see the effect the dry air and constant use has on adhesives - some of the rubber seal has come loose but does not compromise the seal of the door

Each door opens inwards which may seem strange at first, but in times when the when really picks up, it allows us to open the door easily in case of an emergency, rather than battle against the wind trying to keep it shut. It does mean that closing it in high winds is a bit more tricky than usual, but still very achievable. We tested this in 60 knot gusts and was an impressive sight, creating a partial vacuum in the entry room as all the air was blown outside!

The windows on station are also built to heavily insulate from the extremes of outside, by triple-glazing the window panes, it allows us to maintain a comfortable room temperature inside no matter what the external temperature is. Each window has a permanent tint applied to the middle pane to reduce the amount of light (1/10th transmission or ~3 1/3 stops of light). This is a blessing in the summer, however it is more a hindrance during the dark winter months when we need all the light we can get, especially now that the sun is below the horizon so the images you see above is best we get until the twilight disappears completely.

Inside each module, between the metal frame and the composite outer cladding is a tremendous amount of insulation which unfortunately is rather difficult to photograph so I don't have anything to show you.

Between them, the doors, cladding and windows help insulate the station from the cold and allow the heating system to keep us comfortable despite the extreme temperatures outside.

Next week I will talk about what types of clothes we wear for going outside and how I personally layer up as we are all slightly different.

As always, I would be keen to answer any questions.