Arctic health: Environmental risk factors


“White-out”: Choppers can get a very similar “grey-out” over the sea


No Description Velocity km/h

0         Calm                      0

1          Light Air               1.6

2          Light breeze            6.4

3          Gentle breeze          14.5

4          Moderate breeze     22.5

5          Fresh breeze            32

6          Strong breeze          42

7          Moderate gale          53

8          Fresh gale              67

9          Strong gale             83

10         Whole gale              100

11          Storm                   120

12          Hurricane               147



A small and hard-to-detect piece of ice hazardous to shipping. It is smaller than a ice berg. Invisible and usually noticed too late.

Growler (near – invisible)


Katabatic winds; “die Kühle”

Gravity-driven winds caused by colder, heavier air rushing down from the high polar plateau. Very cold winds flowing down a slope.

Very cold katabatic winds


Frozen waves of snowed blown along the surface. Very difficult to cross by foot diagonally during blizzard white-out conditions.  Ridges run parallel to the direction of the prevailing wind.



Snow bridge

Snow that has filled the gap in a crevasse. Often strong enough to support weight, allowing passage over a gap

Dangerous snow bridge


A thin sheet of see-through ice as though painted on a rock. Also called black ice.


The sun reflecting from the ice leading to sunburn. The diminished of ozone also increases the ultraviolet exposure with increased sunburn risks. Use high-factor sun UV blockers.

SPF           UV absorption

2                50%

4                 75%

8                  88%

15                  93%

30                  97%

50                  98%

Apply sunscreen frequently; 15 minutes before entering water and at exit. UV protective clothing pieces can be bought. Use wide-brimmed hats.

Characteristics of good sunglasses for using in Arctic conditions

100% UV absorption

Visible light transmission 5 to 10% (less than 8% shouldn’t worn while driving). Normal sunglasses transmit 15% to 25% visible light

Lens material: polycarbonate or glass

Large lenses with no distortion, wrap-around design, close fit to face, stable on face; light in weight

Colour: Grey


– Water causes freezing of hands, wear a pair of surgical latex gloves undet your worker gloves and you will be able to work with wet ropes painlessly

– Steel becomes acutely cold. A woodenhandled tool goes a long way

– Antartica goes for your weakest point. Loss of glove or goggles can mean your death

– Never go out alone in bad weather. If very bad, you  must be tied to one another. Sign the book when you leave base

– Take crampons and ice picks along on long hauls outside. It may save your life

Ice pick; note the handle insulation

– It is possible to die of thirst in artic conditions. One can’t drink ice

– It may be funny jumping into near-zero water. Just remember, although improbable, you may go into a heart dysrythmia which is incurable and may last lifelong

– Check the fire escapes of the base. Don’t be surprised if they are not user-friendly

– Beware of “black ice”. It’s invisible and slippery beyond belief

– When working hard, you can start sweating. If that sweat freezes over, you are in trouble. The trick is keeping ventilation in balance with energy expenditure