Juggling Interactions

There’s a lot of talk these days about supporting biodiversity, but what does that really mean?

Once, my personal understanding of biodiversity involved a focus on the big, noticeable species – the endangered animals like whales and polar bears and elephants, as if biodiversity was the same as protecting threatened species.

It’s much more than that, of course.

We are really just beginning to untangle just how important an entire web of interactions can be for a habitat, a region, a set of species, for the climate, for ocean health, and so on. We’ve tended to think in terms of linear lines, like food chains, which suits our human need for order. Often, we can only hold so many different elements in our minds as relevant to the same issue before we start losing focus like a bad juggler with too many objects in the air.

Sometimes we choose to think that if a species goes missing in a habitat, for whatever reason, the multiplicity of species will close around the hole left by the animal or plant that is now gone. Adjustments will be made and life will go on.

We are now beginning to comprehend just how much we don’t know about the interactions that sustain healthy environments – and our comprehension is being outpaced by the disappearance of species. This is as true of urban environments as it is of the ever-dwindling places we might think of as ‘wild.’ The good news is, we can actually work on an individual and community level to help support biodiversity.

Today is designated by the United Nations as the International Day for Biological Diversity.

species, biodiversity, Antarctic, research, endangered

A sampling of life beneath the water’s surface around Antarctica.
Source: British Antarctic Survey

Remote Pod Life

Halley VI Photo: BAS/Anthony Dubber

Halley VI – A modular, mobile Antarctic research base
Photo: BAS/Anthony Dubber

I was going to post about something different today, but nanoparticles will just have to wait. Because this week saw the introduction of habitation and science pods worthy of my best childhood space travel dreams. Not only that, the pods are opening for service on a thoroughly inhospitable surface right here on our own planet: Antarctica. A team of researchers and conservationists recently returned a bottle of whisky to an Antarctic base abandoned almost a century ago – the original team had left provisions behind in their attempts to complete their mission alive. Anything built for human shelter in the Antarctic tends to get covered by snow. Also, if the ice upon which the structure is built is moving, the structure will move along with the ice – not necessarily in one piece. Also, much like our space junk left on the lunar surface, whatever gets left behind in Antarctic won’t decompose in the same manner it might elsewhere on the planet. Ideally, whatever gets taken in should be taken back out.

The newest British Antarctic Survey (BAS) station is designed to try and meet some of these challenges in a more long-lasting manner than many older bases. The Halley VI was opened this week. A modular construction, it is perched on legs to protect it against snow, but more importantly, it is built to move. Ski constructions at the end of the legs mean the entire base can be towed from location to location as necessary, or driven out of deepening snow. For comparison, here’s one old base, Halley III, in its current location:

Halley IIIBuilt in the 1970s, it was abandoned to the elements in the 1980s.Image: BAS

Halley III
Built in the 1970s, it was abandoned to the elements in the 1980s.
Image: BAS

As I said recently, research being carried out at the South Pole is of a basic nature, i.e. it’s not for commercial purposes but rather to explore the fundamentals of how the world works for the betterment of human knowledge. That’s not to say that the line of inquiry can’t result in projects, discoveries and advances which can be utilized for other purposes. Sometimes it’s not just the research results themselves, but the needs-driven innovations that underpin the ability of the scientists to do their work.

So, in confronting the challenges of housing a research team in the Antarctic, the design team at Hugh Broughton Architects might have provided us with new insights into building a greener shelter as well – one that is a “visitor, not a resident” on the land, according to the architect, and certainly one with excellent insulation.

At any rate, when I next picture myself lounging on a far flung moon, or maybe just lounging on a newly formed but remote shore on Earth as a retiree, it might just  look like this:

© Hugh Broughton Architects

© Hugh Broughton Architects


British Antarctic Survey – Halley VI

Hugh Broughton Architects – Halley VI