WIRED breaks down the science of human survival in Antarctica.
Survival, ultimately, is about having enough heat, enough water, and enough food. And when it comes to surviving in Antarctica, you’d naturally think heat is the biggie. Hypothermia and frostbite are a constant threat in any kind of polar undertaking. But freezing to death isn’t actually the biggest risk. “Hypothermia is not normal in people who go to very cold places, provided they are reasonably well-protected,” says Mike Tibton, a physiologist in the Extreme Environments Laboratory at the University of Portsmouth. You can get something called non-freezing cold injury, which damages nerves and vasculature, causing chronic pain and cold sensitivity. Cold sure does make life difficult—but it doesn’t make life impossible.