621 hPa, Under Pressure

Overwintering in Antarctica is well know for poor sleep quality.

I had one of my worse nights sleep, waking several times and once, gasping for air, short of breath.

I got up in the morning and climbed the same set of stairs I had on each day for past months.  Again I was struck by a new apparent shortness of breath.  Had I had a blood clot in my leg travel to my lungs, causing a shift in my physiology as I battled a Ventilation-Perfusion mismatch in my lungs…?  Was I suffocating silently and helplessly?

Already we were short on Oxygen, but this was ‘Ridicule’, en Francais.

It turns out there was a simple explanation – the air pressure had decreased overnight… to the lowest it has been all year.  Dr Igor Petenko, our resident Russian Meterologist (and published poet) had explained over dinner that in fact a new record had been set here at Concordia – 620hPa.

It is interesting to know how we had become sensitised to subtle (and dramatic) changes in air pressure whilst living here, that you would never otherwise feel or know living at sea level in London.

The Oxygen Level in my blood (Oxygen Saturation) had dipped below 90% on room air also.  Not that it made much difference – I had been living teetering on the edge of my own existence, well within the British Thoracic Society (BTS) guidelines to initiate Oxygen Therapy for sometime, despite apparent acclimatisation.

Oxygen had become a commodity here, much like water in the desert… There is never enough of it when you need it, if you ever find it.  Fortunately, Mirages on the horizon keep you walking.

Still life goes on, you hope.

I read that the surface pressure on Mars is only about 0.7% of the average surface pressure at sea level on Earth - its pressure is only about one-hundredth of that on Earth.  Mind the expression, but ‘How on Earth’ will anyone ever sleep comfortably on the surface of Mars?


Pressure comparison



Olympus Mons summit on MARS

0.03 kilopascals (0.0044 psi)

MARS average

0.6 kilopascals (0.087 psi)

Hellas Planitia bottom on MARS

1.16 kilopascals (0.168 psi)

Armstrong limit

6.25 kilopascals (0.906 psi)

Mount Everest summit[11]

33.7 kilopascals (4.89 psi)

Earth sea level

101.3 kilopascals (14.69 psi)



Song of the day

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