2002-2003 Science Planning Summary

Biology & Medicine

Dr. Polly Penhale
Program Manager


NSF/OPP 01-25893
Station: McMurdo Station
RPSC POC: Norm Wolfe
Research Site(s): McMurdo Station

Culture emergence and health in Antarctica
Dr. Timothy D. Dye
University of Rochester
Division of Public Health Practice
Dr. Nancy Chin
University of Rochester

Deploying Team Members: Nancy P Chin . Kathryn Donhauser . Timothy D Dye . Peter Fleming . Adam Rains
Research Objectives: The emergence of a long-term population in space will, in many ways, parallel the emergence of a sustained population in Antarctica, where development has expanded beyond the initial population of scientific and military personnel and now includes support staff and construction personnel. Experts speculate that a similar mix of residents may emerge as space populations develop. Such organizational and cultural merging in restricted environments undoubtedly creates new cultural landscapes (ethnoscapes) that could influence health and health behavior. Because of the extreme environmental circumstances, health risks and health care are particularly important. The study of cultural emergence in Antarctica as an analog to space could prove useful in the development of models of health and health behavior in an isolated confined environment (ICE) and could help planners better structure these environments to reduce health risks and identify factors that predispose people to those risks.

This group will

Model the emergence of cultural stages in ICE ethnoscapes as experienced by both short- and long-term populations,

Identify those elements of ICE ethnoscapes that are specific to an individual season and those that are repeated,

Relate how the temporal and content stages of ICE ethnoscapes interact with risk, behavior, and injury, and

Demonstrate the utility of electronic and distance-based assisted ethnography in the conduct of social research in ICE environments of Antarctica, and possibly in space.

Researchers will begin with key informant interviews and focus groups conducted throughout the United States with people who have spent at least one season on the ice within the past three years. The purpose is to elucidate the behaviors, risks, and health events that face residents, particularly in the emergence of ethnoscapes. During the next phase, researchers will reside in Antarctica for an extended period and conducting onsite participant observation and interviews at two different sites. This phase will include the Self-Disclosure Technique (SDT), an anthropological method for identifying the conceptual structure of a cultural event. SDT will be used to describe cultural dynamics in occupational, recreational, spiritual, and other group activities. Fieldwork will involve both short- and long-term residence. The data will be processed, and models will be tested for validity with informants on the ice.

This research could contribute to the development of screening procedures for long-term residence in ICEs and context-sensitive explanatory models of culture and injury risk, as well as illustrate the utility of distance-based ethnography.

Field Season Overview:
Researchers will observe the unique culture of the Isolated Confined Environment (ICE) at McMurdo Station and study the way it develops during the season. They will solicit volunteers from the support contractor's staff to interview and track via e-mail and an interactive web-based program. Whenever possible, researchers will join occupational and social groups for the purposes of observation and study.