Exposure to the elements is one of the greatest threats to survival in
Antarctica. Sunburn, which is much more likely to affect you in such a
reflective environment, is not only uncomfortable but dangerous. It can block
your body's ability to sweat and thereby cool itself, it can lead to fever and
retarded muscular activity if severe, and, because of the ozone hole, can
ultimately increase your chances of getting skin cancer.
Frostbite, the freezing of tissues, can strike any exposed skin in minutes.
(Note that beards offer little or no protection to your face.) The first sign
is a blanching of the affected area, followed by a tingling or stinging
sensation and then numbness. If the affected area stops hurting, you know
you're in serious trouble. On Elephant Island, Perce Blackborow had to
have all the toes on his left foot removed after they had become severely
frostbitten. Never forget, too, that flesh can freeze instantly to frozen
The gravest danger of exposure is hypothermia, which is a lowering of your core
body temperature. It comes on surreptitiously; people have died of hypothermia
without ever even complaining of the cold. Initial symptoms include exhaustion,
loss of mental acuity and judgment, and a reluctance to do anything. When your
core temperature drops below 78°F, you die.