Staying Hydrated in the Polar Desert
March 21, 2009
During one of the first safety meetings, Stian Alesandrini, our marine
projects coordinator and a trained EMT, warned that the most common
health problem on Antarctic cruises is dehydration. Making sure to
drink enough water does not immediately come to mind when one pictures
all of the snow and ice in Antarctica, but Antarctica is the largest
cold desert in the world. A desert is defined as a region that receives
less than 250 millimeters of rain each year; parts of Antarctica receive less than
20 millimeters. Near the coast and out on the ocean, the air is not that dry —
the relative humidity during our cruise has consistently been high (85
to 100 percent). Still, cold air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air.
Cold air (let's say at 1ºC which is the
temperature outside the ship right now) at 85 percent relative humidity will contain less moisture than air at 21ºC (a typical outdoor
temperature in central California). In addition, when cold air is
pumped in and heated to warm the interior of the ship, its moisture
content does not change, thus the relative humidity inside of the ship
is much lower than what we measure outside.
Most people carry bottles filled with water in order to stay hydrated in the
dry, heated air. Photo by Amanda Kahn
Symptoms of mild dehydration include nausea, dry mouth, headache, and
disorientation. Even if dehydration has not developed enough to have
its own symptoms, not having enough water in one’s system also makes one
more susceptible to seasickness. Though seasickness is an unavoidable
part of going out to sea, it is best to reduce the chances of being
affected by it, since it slows reaction times, causes drowsiness, and
lack of focus — not to mention a queasy feeling.
On the ship, we have a plethora of hot and cold beverages to stave off
dehydration. Juices such as apple, orange, grape, and peach juice line
the shelves in the mess hall. Milk, water, soda, carbonated water,
coffee, and tea are also available any time of the day or night.
As lab experiments continue, everyone will need to be mindful to drink
— Amanda Kahn