Women are in the minority when it comes to Polar exploration. The first woman in Antarctica was Norwegian Caroline Mikkelsen in 1935, since Bellinghausen first sighted the continent in 1821. Expedition leader Wendy Searle wanted to know if she too could pioneer a new route, just as Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen and Mawson had in the early 20th Century.
Falling in love with Antarctica through her work as UK operations and media manager for a previous expedition (2016/17 SPEAR17, which completed the first unsupported full traverse of the continent) Wendy was inspired by this and many previous expeditions. Deciding to pioneer a new route was as important as the requirement to 'man-haul', or to drag all the food, kit and equipment in special sleds, known as pulks.
By her own admission, Wendy is 'ordinary' and wants to show others that the extraordinary is available to everyone. A mother of four children, each will have a part to play in the expedition, from videographer, training partner or blogger.
Living by two adages; 'never waste a second', and 'never give up', she will need every ounce of physical and mental resolve to reach her goal.
Although Wendy has a day job, her first love is adventure, and pushing mental and physical boundaries. Taking up skydiving two years ago, Wendy now jumps regularly and blogs about her adventures both in the sky and on the ground.
Team member Lou Rudd, an experienced Antarctica adventurer, will add this new route to his ascent of the Axel-Heiberg Glacier in 2012, and the descent of the Shackleton Glacier in 2017.
The limits of human endurance
The limits of human endurance
Human Resilience in Extreme Environments
As the South Pole 2020 team inch their way across the frozen wastes of the Antarctic continent, their mental strength will be tested to the limits. Challenges will include physical hardship, isolation, monotony, sub-zero temperatures, white-outs and the life-threatening danger of crevasses.
Working with Dr Nathan Smith and Exeter University, the team will be recording data on their mental state both during the expedition itself and in the run up to the 55-day trip. Using diaries, video and voice recordings, stress levels will be monitored and collected, and evidence of duress documented.
Data gathered from the team will form part of a study into mental health at the limits of human resilience, including new research into facial recognition technology, which will help bodies like the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats, Government agencies and space agencies around the world.
Eventually, scientists hope to map the data and provide interventions from remote locations which could help aid workers, humanitarian crises and astronauts.
Uniquely, the makeup of the South Pole 2020 team will allow direct comparisons to be drawn between male and female resilience.
While this may be at the extreme end of human endurance, the results could be applicable to the stress of everyday life too.
Starting in September 2017, this long-term study will add to the technological advances in this area.
Antarctica contains the fastest retreating glaciers on the face of the Earth. Deep submarine canyons channel warm sea water under the ice shelves. As they melt the glaciers behind them accelerate.
Until recently, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was considered secure. Now scientists are describing the continent’s ice shelves as the ‘canary in the coal mine.’
The team will be measuring changing in the grounding lines – the point where the ice shelf meets the land mass – to bring back data on climate change in this remote and fragile region.