The success story of us humans is mainly based on our enormous adaptability. We have conquered virtually all land habitats and can survive even in the most inhospitable – in Antarctica – at least with proper preparation and equipment. But what effect do the extreme conditions such as cold, altitude, the special energy-rich food or the great physical exertion have on the human metabolism during Antarctic crossings? This is what a British research team is currently investigating at the South Pole, equipped with all kinds of sensors and technology.
On Nov. 25, the U.K. mixed military-civilian team set out on the INSPIRE 22 medical research expedition, during which participants will study the metabolic costs of the challenge. The ten-member team, consisting of doctors, physiologists, polar guides, a teacher and an engineer, set off from the Ronne Ice Shelf on the so-called “Messner Start” and will ski more than 900 kilometers across the polar plateau to the South Pole. With temperatures expected to reach -40°C and wind speeds of up to about 100 kilometers per hour, participants will be pulling food for 55 days as well as equipment behind them on pulks.
Although somewhat easier nowadays thanks to better equipment and food than it was over 100 years ago when Amundsen and Scott set out for the South Pole, the expedition still remains a major physical, mental and nutritional challenge.
INSPIRE 22 is now expected to provide the first insights into the effects of metabolic acclimation and deacclimation. In addition, participants perform metabolic measurements on themselves throughout the expedition using wearable sensors. According to the expedition website, “in the near future, wearable physiological monitoring could improve the accuracy of on-scene diagnostics, better protect our personnel, optimize their performance, and inform critical medical and command decisions.”
The protocol also includes measurements of weight loss and body composition throughout the expedition to determine energy expenditure. Later in the laboratory, the changes in energy metabolism and food utilization in response to hypoxia (lack of oxygen) after a drop in temperature of 10°C will also be studied.
The team, which is funded by TeamForces and British Forces Broadcasting Service, among others, will arrive at the South Pole around mid-January.
Julia Hager, PolarJournal
Link to the expedition: https://www.inspire22.co.uk