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University of Brighton Cold Chamber Tests

The team have undergone their first serious test with the extreme cold, following arduous assessment led by Ash Willmott at the University of Brighton’s Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit.

Matt chuffed with having less fat than Ollie

Matt chuffed with having less fat than Ollie

The series of tests were designed to measure the response of the body in the cold and is just one of a number of ways in which the team need to prepare for 70 days in the Antarctic. Surface and core body temperature were measured during periods of inactivity and basic exercise, highlighting the importance of layer management and pacing. When the body sweats more, the cold air draws the heat out much more rapidly, sweat can freeze and hypothermia is a very real danger if not properly controlled. Ensuring good circulation and insulation of the extremities (which is achieved with the use of good gloves and socks!) is vital to preventing life and limb-threatening conditions – aka frostbite.

Skin temperature, especially on the thigh and calf dropped dramatically when entering the cold chamber (set at -21oC!), giving an insight into the amount of heat that can be lost from the lower limbs. Temperatures for both Matt and Ollie dropped between 5-10oC in about 10 minutes. At -21oC. The average temperature at the pole in summer is -28oC! Conclusion, appropriate clothing on the lower body is just as important than warm layers on the top!

The guys were also dunked into the ‘ice tank’ to simulate the effect of becoming submerged in water, or falling into a crevasse. Although not much effect on core body temperature (temporarily being raised due to vasoconstriction of surface blood vessels, effectively forcing blood away from the periphery into the core as expected), it was certainly a struggle to control breathing when in water that was a seemingly tepid 12oC! The body loses heat 25 times faster in water than air.

Ollie feeling the effects about 20 minutes

Ollie feeling the effects of the cold water after about 20 minutes

These tests and any future experiences the team will be undertaking provides a sense of just how much preparation will be needed to condition the body to the Antarctic climate. Utilising 6000 calories per day in order to maintain body temperature, means that conserving energy and maintaining body temperature will be key factors in the team’s survival and ultimate expedition success. In time, this will also form an invaluable resource where the team can test kit and practise the routine of skiing, cooking and setting up camp; by far the three most time-consuming activities on expedition.

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