Posts Tagged survival

Antarctic Voyage: Cold weather protection Guest Work Feb 13

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Written by Dr Anne Waterhouse (ship’s doctor) and Helen Bostock (marine geologist, NIWA)

Date: 11/2/2013
Location: 59.852688°S, 139.613379°E
Weather: Snow, rain, 40-50 knot (70-90 km/hour) winds
Sea state: Rough – 8-10 m swell

Kate Berry and Anne Waterhouse in their Antarctic gear. [Helen Bostock]

Last night the storm continued with the wind and the sea state picking up further.  As a result, we are now playing a frustrating waiting game – and as you can see from the location we haven’t moved anywhere since yesterday lunch time.

As we approach 60°S the air temperature is 3-4°C with the odd snow flurry, the water 3-4°C and the wind up at about 50 knots (about 90 km/hour). This makes it much less pleasant to be working out on deck, and it is only likely to get colder….

We had an excellent introduction to Antarctic survival by Brian Staite before departure, but it was time for some reminders about hypothermia, cold exposure, frostbite and cold immersion.  Many on board are familiar with life “in the freezer”, but for the benefit of those new to the south the doctor gave a talk on cold exposure to crew and scientists today, reminding them about the dangers of hypothermia and what to look out for, particularly ‘the umbles’: fumbles, mumbles, stumbles and grumbles. All are warning signs that our bodies are not maintaining core temperature.

We have the ship’s excellent chefs, Kim and Kris, to thank for taking care of our first protective layer against the cold – a stomach full of food for energy. Our second layer, body fat, is more variable among those on board. I suspect the chefs are on a secret mission to increase it on everyone.  The outer three layers are thermals, a fleece layer and finally a wind and waterproof layer to give us five layers of protection in this extreme environment. Thick socks, hats, neck warmers and gloves complete the picture.

Mark Fenwick and Molly Patterson in Mullion suits. [Helen Bostock]

On the ship, most of the scientists and crew wear bright orange ‘Mullion’ suits on deck to stay warm and dry, and to provide emergency flotation. Keeping your hands warm is the most difficult thing to do, especially when you need to do fine work sampling very cold water.

Courtney Derriman in a survival suit. [Aitana Forcen]

Photos of frostnip and more extreme frostbite had much more impact than words of advice. We certainly hope not to be in danger of either, but we will be a long way south and wind chill can be treacherous, so it is important to keep an eye on colleagues when out in the weather and watch for any developing areas of frostnip – especially on the fingers and faces.

The donning of the immersion suits during one of our safety drills (while a very entertaining exercise) was another reminder of the importance of keeping warm and dry. Glen, the ship’s ‘leading hand’, provided a speedy demonstration on how to do this, managing to get the immersion dry suit on in a quick 1 min 40 sec. Most of us took a lot longer and probably need to practise. An additional note: the ‘one size fits all’ suits are not especially helpful for those of us that are smaller or larger than normal.

Antarctic voyage: Survival training Guest Work Feb 04

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Dr Helen Bostock, marine geologist at NIWA, writes:

What would we do if the ship sank?

Before we leave the dock, we have all been through several hours of survival training and a ship safety tour.

For this voyage, we spent a couple of hours with a very experienced Antarctic field trainer, Brian Staite. During this session we went through the survival gear we are taking with us.

Personal survival kit. Credit: Helen Bostock

Each person will get a survival bag with warm clothes, ski goggles, some chocolateand a field survival guide. Then pairs of us have a large box with a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, a stove and other such useful items, and a barrel of food.

Inside the barrel. Credit: Helen Bostock

There is also a satellite phone and a radio for the whole group. The idea is that, should we have to get off on to the sea ice near the coast of Antarctica, we can survive for up to 5 days before someone comes to rescue us.

Daniel 2nd mate showing how to release the lifeboat. Credit: Helen Bostock

Fiona in a life jacket

On the  ship’s safety tour  we learned about  how to stay safe on the ship, different alarms, man overboard procedures, breathing apparatus and fighting fires, how to deploy a life boat, and we also practice getting into a survival dry suit. While the crew are all trained in this stuff, we will be required to help out in an emergency.

Over the next few days while we are in transit to our first station, we will be doing lots of safety drills – man overboard, fire drill, abandon ship and so forth. This is so we know what to do when the real thing happens.

Hopefully we won’t need to put any of it into practise!


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