Now Kannur-native Dr Shinoj Sasidharan has penguins and large sheets of ice for company. When the medical doctor got the call to pack the bags for the long journey to the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica, it was a dream come true for him. It was a drastic change for Dr Shinoj as he moved from the hot and humid plains of Kannur in Kerala to the below freezing temperature of Antarctica. Though the 18-month stay in Antarctica can be challenging and bleak for Dr Shinoj, the days in the southern white continent can also bring moments of joy. “The ubiquitous snow and extremely cold conditions make Antarctica what it is,” notes Dr Shinoj.
Dr Shinoj along with two other Keralite medical professionals – Dr P V Pramod, hailing from Thrissur and Thodupuzha-native Dr Vijesh Vijayan – are part of India’s Antarctica expedition team. One more doctor who is part of the team hails from Mumbai. The members of India’s 41st scientific expedition to Antarctica are based in Indian Antarctic stations of Maitri and Bharati.
The doctors have to provide medical support to the expedition team that is braving subzero temperature and one of the most inhospitable terrain in the world. During peak winters, the temperature will dip to minus 89 degree Celcius and with the ice-cold wind blowing at 150km per hour, the mercury hovers around minus 35 degree even inside the station. The team members are picked after strict scrutiny as they have to face harsh weather conditions in Antarctica. The final selection will be made only after detailed medical examination and tests.
“We got rigorous training before leaving for Antarctica and the training was held at Auli in Uttarakhand under the watchful eyes of Indo-Tibetan Border Police,” says Dr Shinoj.
Maitri and Bharati are the two Indian Antarctic stations that are working at full steam as part of the Indian Antarctic programme, which was kick-started in 1981. The group of experts stationed at Bharati is studying the Amery Ice Shelf, which may throw light on the past connection between India and Antarctica.
Those in Maitri station are analysing the weather pattern of Antarctica and doing the preliminary work to drill the snow to a depth of 500 metres to learn more about greenhouse gases.
Dr Pramod is becoming part of the programme for the second time as he was included in the 38th expedition to Antarctica and was based in Maitri station. Dr Pramod, who completed MBBS from Thrissur Medical College, joined the Kerala Health Services in 2005. He took leave from his routine work to contribute to the Antarctica team.
Dr Shinoj graduated from Kozhikode Medical College and is an orthopaedic surgeon based in Bengaluru. He has also worked at Kannur NHM (National Health Mission). Dr Vijesh, who is a physician at Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi, did his MBBS from Thiruvananthapuram Medical College and MD from Lady Hardinge Medical College.