Antarctic Megadunes: Training

Outdoor survival trainingCrevasse rescue training. Image courtesy of Rob Bauer.

Every person who works in the field in Antarctica must receive survival training. Those in Antarctica for the first time participate in classroom training about frostbite and other dangers, and two days of outdoor training. During the outdoor portion of the training, students learn how to build a snow shelter, travel safely in crevasse zones and on sea ice, and what to do if they are lost in a whiteout. Students also spend a night in a snow cave. Rob Bauer, the safety officer, used his previous mountaineering experience to assist the Field Safety Training Program in crevasse rescue techniques, shown below.

While at McMurdo, the researchers learned how to start, run, and repair their generators and snowmobiles and tested the GPS equipment, computers, and software.


The altitude of the megadunes field site is approximately 2,896 meters (9,500 feet) above sea level. Because of the Earth's spin, the atmospheric pressure in Antarctica is lower than elsewhere on the planet, making the field site seem more like 3,353 meters (11,000 feet) above sea level. There is always the threat of altitude sickness. The TAM camp, described in Getting There, is at an altitude similar to that of the field site, which helped them get used to the lower oxygen level at altitude.

Surviving the Elements

Chris Shuman wearing a balaclavaRob Bauer wearing protective clothing. Image courtesy of Rob Bauer.

The megadunes study region has "some of the most severe weather conditions on the planet," according to the megadunes proposal submitted to the NSF. Staying warm and protecting your skin is the main concern.

Temperatures are frigid even in summer, -20 to -30°C (-5 to -22°F). But the incessant wind is the real danger. Wind chill temperatures can reach -46°C (-51°F).

Researchers were taught to keep safety in mind at all times.