Course Material
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Altitude Scale

High: 8,000 to 12,000 feet
Very High: 12,000 to 18,000 feet
Extreme: 18,000+ feet

Most high altitude camps are at 8,000 to 12,000 feet, and you will be arriving from sea level. Altitude illness symptoms can occur at elevations as low as 7,000 feet.

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Basic Physiology of Altitude
  • Oxygen remains at about 20% as altitude increases.
  • Barometric pressure decreases as the altitude increases.
  • As barometric pressure decreases, partial pressure of oxygen decreases.
  • The body works harder to push oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream.
  • The result is less oxygen available to the body (hypoxia).

At 50 feet: 95% blood oxygen saturation
At 18,000 feet: 71% blood oxygen saturation

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Altitude and Polar Regions
  • Barometric pressure is affected by its distance from the equator and decreases at higher latitudes.
  • In polar regions, hypoxia (inadequate oxygen in the lungs and blood) develops at lower altitudes.

    South Pole: 9,300 feet feels like 11,000
    Mount Erebus: 12,744 feet can feel like 15,000

  • A low-pressure weather system can further reduce barometric pressure.

    South Pole pressure altitude varies: 9,000 to 12,500 feet

  • Antarctic weather increases the chance of altitude related problems.
  • Extreme cold provokes altitude related problems.
 

 

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Curator: Brigitta James, Antarctic Support Contract   |   NSF Official: Paul Sheppard, Division of Polar Programs