Dr. Mike Stroud BsC, MD, DSci, Expedition Medical Adviser & Human Sciences Research Lead for The Coldest Journey explains:
The Coldest Journey, a 2000-mile traverse across Antarctica, provides a unique opportunity for a substantial Human Sciences research project. In fact, NASA suggested that polar traverses could be excellent analogues for space research. While fixed polar bases have been used for spaceflight studies, similar work has never been performed on a small travelling group who are truly isolated. Therefore, The Coldest Journey is of great interest, with research aiming to study both the physical and psychological effects of the expedition’s extreme nature. These include:
A prolonged period of complete isolation: The team will be alone on the ice from March to October and the isolation experienced will be “real” since there will be no opportunity for evacuation during the Antarctic winter.
An altered day-night cycle: The team will experience three to four months of complete darkness enabling research in relation to measurable changes in circadian rhythm.
Chronic hypobaric hypoxia: The expedition will encounter altitudes up around 3,200 meters. The extreme cold temperatures and the lower gravitational field at high latitudes will further decrease atmospheric pressure, creating low oxygen levels equivalent to those of more than 3,800-meters altitude.
Exposure to extreme environments: The Antarctic Plateau is the world’s largest desert exposing the team to both extreme cold and low humidity.
Periods of unusually limited visual stimuli coupled with potential hypoxic changes to the eyes: Some team members will spend many hours on most days looking into darkness and all members will be subject to a degree of chronic hypoxia. This is expected to have effects on vision and visual processing.
The team will undergo full physiological characterization in the UK in terms of body weight, physical fitness, and muscle function and structure before and after the journey. They will then undergo a repeating 28-day cycle of diary recording and testing throughout the crossing to evaluate:
a. Appetite, food intake, activity levels, and consequent changes in fitness, strength, body weight, and body composition
b. Reflex speeds and cognitive function using computer based testing
c. Blood and urinary hormones related to stress and circadian rhythms
d. Retina and visual function
e. Vitamin D levels and their relationship to immune function
f. The bacteria being carried on and in their bodies
g. Sleep duration and quality using EEG
h. Psychological status and determination of small group dynamics
i. Haemostatic function (the ability of the blood to clot)
j. Kidney function and markers of kidney damage
k. Performance and mood before and after taking caffeine tablets
l. Responses to hand cooling
So, Why Take a Freezer to Antarctica?
These experiments will generate many biological samples which need to be preserved by deep freezing. Although the samples could be kept frozen through the Antarctic winter by simply storing them outside, the expedition may not be picked up until well into the next Antarctic summer. By that time, temperatures will rise far too high to preserve our samples for later analysis. Furthermore, the samples will then need to be transported out from Antarctica by ship. It is therefore critical for our work that we have a portable -80C freezer unit. That’s why the team is using the Shuttle Portable Ultra-Low Temperature Freezer from Cole-Parmer, who donated the freezer for the expedition.
Find this freezer, and other innovative items, in the new 2013/2014 Cole-Parmer® Sourcebook.