Surviving in Extreme Cold

1/27/2012 3:52:40 PM

Surviving in Extreme Cold


Snow depth, density, grain size, and crystal type are all measurements required by a snow scientist in the Arctic. But how can a scientist take good, accurate measurements and stay safe when the wind is howling, snow is blowing, and the temperatures drop to frigid levels well below zero? Days can be long in the field before the team returns to warm lodging, or the trip may require overnights in tents. An arctic snow scientist must give tedious attention to details in warm clothing for field studies on arctic snow.

The secret lies in layers and the appropriate types of clothing. It starts with a warm, wicking, long underwear layer. Overtop this base layer usually is two layers of warm fleece. Then comes a nice down pants layer or other cold expedition pants. The jacket is usually an arctic parka—like the expedition parkas from Canada Goose—that reach the knees with a big hood and a large fur ruff. The secret to warmth also lies in an extremely warm hat. Although great advances have been made in synthetic fleece hats for warmth, they're not as warm as fur, so many arctic snow scientists depend on fur hats in the style of the arctic native Inuit and Alaska trapper hats.

Careful attention must be paid to the extremities in the cold. Mittens are favored for extreme cold, although in warmer conditions scientists get by with gloves. How low the mercury drops in the thermometer determines how big and thick the mitten!! The feet also must be attended to with some extreme cold weather boots. Some scientists choose military issued "bunny" boots, which are made of a thick, insulated rubber but have a vapor lock system to trap in the warmth.

All exposed skin can be at risk for frostbite. Therefore, in extreme cold and wind, the nose and face must be covered.

After all this preparation, the snow scientist is ready for long days recording snow measurements in the field! Remember, most measurements are still recorded with pencil and field books, so the scientist must be ready to write. Oh, and if all else fails, and you can still feel the cold creeping around your bones, running sprints and eating candy bars is a great way to stay warm! Now—off we go to measure snow on the dens of mother polar bears!

Top photo ©BJ Kirschhoffer. Remaining photos courtesy of Dr. Glen Liston.

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