Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Article excerpt

Although I'm trained as a medical doctor, I'm working as a researcher at the moment. I am one of 13 scientists and technical teams to overwinter at the Concordia station, where we live in isolation for nine months, experience temperatures lower than -80[degrees]C ambient and at an altitude of 3,233m on the Antarctic plateau. My main job is to help the ESA collect data for the human spaceflight programme. The Concordia station is a spaceflight analogue--'White Mars'--in which the ESA have been involved for seven years.

'Spaceflight analogue' means that the environment at Concordia is very similar to one you might expect to find on a long duration spaceflight. As in space, we have a small international crew, isolated for a long period of time and, like space, we have lower light and oxygen levels.

I haven't seen the sun for 63 days--not that I'm counting! There's another 47 left to go out of a total 100 days without sun. We're in total darkness for three weeks during the winter, but for the rest of the time there is a dim light on the horizon to look forward to.

The altitude here simulates the low air pressure that may be used for long duration space missions. Air pressure on spacecraft is configured depending on operational and engineering limitations.

I am conducting a good mix of physiology and psychology experiments. Every few months, I ask team members to wear 24-hour blood pressure cuffs and every day I ask two of the team to undergo tests for cognition and Intelligence. Because we're in a confined space, some of the psychology experiments touch on being Big Brother-like. Right now on the base, we're all wearing watches which not only record sleep patterns, but also our interaction with other crew members. For example, mine calculates if I am spending more time in the gym or being sociable. The idea is to monitor how behaviour in these kinds of conditions changes over time.

I'm the only ESA researcher on the base. Most of the team are Antarctic scientists --glaciologists, atmospheric physicists or technicians, etc. Because the whole group Is the subject of my experiments, it helps that I'm a subject too, otherwise the rest would get sick of it, I think.

We have a 'grey water* recycling system, which Is a prototype for one we could use on a space station. It recycles all the water we use except for drinking. Once every two weeks, I analyse the quality of the water to make sure it's okay to use.

Tm hooked on the expedition world and am an avid skier, which leant Itself to working in colder places. Before coming to Concordia, I'd travelled to Greenland for three seasons of expeditions as well as the North Pole and Siberia for cold marathons, where I helped competitors with frostbite, dehydration and musculoskeletal Injuries. …

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