By Owen Xu Li
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has been delaying its research, deploying only essential teams to the continent, functionally postponing all research in the deep field until next year.
This includes joint research with the Americans of the Thwaites Glacier, which has been a major focus due to its alarming rate of melting.
The BAS stated that it doesn’t have the capacity to treat people if they get infected with COVID-19. Dame Jane Francis, BAS director, added that no nation has the medical facilities required to treat the current number of seriously ill people.
In the first week of August, consultation with international partners has implemented strict procedures to prevent the virus from reaching Antarctica.
The main challenge is air routes. This is because to travel to Antarctica, researchers often stop at one of the main gateways (South Africa, Australia or New Zealand, and Chile), where they then continue their journey across the Southern Ocean by plane or ship.
However, air corridors have been severely affected by the shutdown and the main gateways aren’t functioning as usual.
Therefore, researchers and technicians must travel directly from Britain to Antarctica through the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross.
With these limitations in mind, the BAS has decided to just maintain important climate observations at the main stations of Rothera and Halley.
In the past years, Halley has remained closed during the winter, with its scientific instruments running automatically. However, with the current pandemic, Halley will also remain shut down in the summer, with brief visits from a few scientists to complete maintenance on the power generators.
To feed the power generator, however, the BAS has to transfer the fuel from the big station tanks to Halley. This will only happen if BAS sends its fleet of Twin Otters from Canada to Antarctica, which is impossible in the current situations.
But if the Twin Otters don’t show up, then nobody will be able to travel from Rothera to Halley to fix the issue.