Ever since man has stepped on the shores of Antarctica, it has opened a vast field of research in various scientific disciplines including health. Antarctica has been described to be a natural laboratory for studying the stresses on health and human performances associated with isolation in extreme conditions. Its environment is described as being extreme because survival is impossible for the unprotected and ill-provisioned individual. Its natural environment being dangerous and not easily accessible makes it stressful. However, physical characteristics of the polar-environment are not the strongest stressors that may be encountered by the individuals in Antarctica. Psychological aspects bring about varied kind of difficulties and reactions for people who stay there on short-term or long term basis : prolonged isolation or separation from family and friends; confinement in small groups restricting privacy; and occupation concerning group activities, restricted leisure activities and periods of high work load.
India has made great strides in carrying out significant scientific research in Antarctica covering varied subjects like environment and climate changes, global warming, geological surveys, geomagnetism, snow and avalanches study, oceanography, paleo-botany etc.
Short term study on behavioural aspects of Indian scientists has also been carried out.
What I am proposing to study : I am guiding a longitudinal assessment of general and psychological health, adaptation, cognitive functioning, and pattern of nicotine and alcohol consumption in team members of Indian Scientific Expedition. The particular emphasis of my work would be serial assessment of members who will be staying there for 15 months (wintering). Though I shall return by end of March, 2008, I have elicited cooperation of 2 doctors who would be staying in Antarctica on longterm basis who would continue to assess and record findings periodically.
The results of this study are expected to tell us :
- if the stress of Antarctic expedition impacts general and psychological health in any significant manner; if the experiences at Antarctic modify adaptive capabilities of expedition members in any positive or negative way;
- if there is any change in cognitive functioning of individual in extreme climate conditions of Antarctica; if there is any significant change in cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption as a way of coping;
- if all the above functions are dependent on the changes in duration of day/night during various months of long term stay.