The crew of a 14-month Antarctic expedition found their brains had shrunk during their time of isolation, according to a study.
The nine people who participated in the expedition at the German research station Neumayer III, eight scientists and researchers and a cook, had their brains scanned before and after the trip. Results showed a 7% decrease in their hippocampus, the part of the brain needed for memory and observation, compared to scans of those who were not at the station.
The study speculates that this could have occurred because of a lack of brain stimulation while working in such a monotonous environment for this lengthy period. With only a few of the same people living in the centre and the same white ice-scape, the researchers had little to keep them stimulated especially during the dark polar winter.
Temperatures drop as low as –50° Celsius and evacuation is impossible. Experiencing this is as close as possible to the environment of a long-haul space mission that anyone on Earth can get.
The researchers are now looking at ways to combat this kind of shrinkage due to isolation, such as specific physical exercises and virtual reality to augment sensory stimulation.
Image: Stefan Christmann, Alfred-Wegener-Institut