Bath student to be first Manxman to visit Antarctica

An adventurous scientist from the University of Bath is set to become the first from the Isle of Man to visit the South Pole.

Joe Kinrade, from Andreas on the Isle of Man, will spend nine days at the geographical South Pole as part of a six-week Antarctic research expedition studying GPS (Global Positioning System) signals in the Earth's atmosphere, as part of his PhD course at the University.

Joe said: "I'm really excited about visiting the Antarctic – it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"However, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous – we've got a lot of important work to do while we're out there and the working conditions are quite unique.

"I'll be managing a team of five and we'll be visiting various bases around the central icy plateau of the continent, covering a huge area by small aircraft and staying in some very remote locations while we gather data."

The research project, an Antarctic Funding Initiative (AFI) collaboration between the University of Bath and the British Antarctic Survey, aims to improve the way radio systems work by producing detailed data about possible disruptions to radio waves in the Earth's ionosphere (a layer in the Earth's upper atmosphere).

Joe explained: "Giant storms on the surface of the Sun can be powerful enough to disturb our delicate atmosphere – the ‘Northern Lights’ are a spectacular example of this happening. The ionosphere is notoriously turbulent during times of heightened solar activity and as a result, GPS signals are often disrupted.

"This causes problems for satellite communications equipment which relies on sending radio waves through that ‘filtering’ layer – impact is seen in everything from everyday Sat-Navs in our cars, migrational tracking of endangered species and even monitoring climate change through sea-level and ice thickness measurements made from space.

"Our receivers have been monitoring the ionosphere for the past 12 months, so we'll be collecting their data and creating detailed images in a similar way to how an MRI scanner portrays a human body.

"This information will then be used to build on our existing knowledge of the ionosphere and in turn, improve the way we use GPS on Earth."

During his trip, Joe will have to sleep in a tent for weeks on end, enduring temperatures as low as -50°C and surviving on freeze-dried food cooked on a paraffin camping stove.

Joe said: "The American base at the geographic South Pole has all the home comforts you could need, from a gift shop to a basketball court and a gym, so that part shouldn't be too difficult to adjust to.

"However, we'll be visiting some very remote locations to collect our data, sleeping in tents and experiencing some very difficult and quite hostile environments.

"I'll have to increase my diet to include an extra 1,000 calories, just so my body can cope with the extreme temperatures and, because of the UV levels down there, I'll be wearing Factor 50 sun lotion. Plus, it's the Antarctic summer, which means 24-hour daylight!"

But one thing Joe can look forward to while he's out there is a white Christmas, as he'll be spending 25 December at the South Pole.

"It'll be strange being so far away from my family at Christmas and I really wish I could take my dog Alfie with me!" he said, "But I'm taking a few things to make me feel at home, such as my iPod and a Manx flag of course!

"It's going to be the trip of a lifetime and I'd like to thank my supervisor Professor Cathryn Mitchell, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and the Isle of Man Government for their support."

Joe embarks on his two-and-a-half-day journey to the Antarctic this Sunday (21 November).

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