Wednesday 25 November 2015

sand desert

The Empty Quarter, or Rub Al Khali, is the largest sand desert in the world. It covers some 650,000 square kilometres of the Arabian Peninsula in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and UAE – an area of sand bigger than France, Belgium and the Netherland combined. It is a hot, dry, desolate and inhospitable place.

In 1930, a small team of men made the first ever recorded crossing of the Rub Al Khali desert, walking for nearly 1,000 kilometres from the coast of Oman, through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to the coast of Qatar. Now, 85 years later, the challenge is to be repeated – and a team from the University of Northampton will be researching how the participants cope with the mammoth trek.

The University of Northampton research team will be exploring how the group – two Omani gentlemen and a British explorer, Mark Evans – cope with the journey’s extreme conditions and isolated environment. Throughout the planned 60-day journey, Dr Nathan Smith and his team will be examining the role of personal factors and the coping responses used by the expedition team members. A daily log will be completed to examine their changes in mood, and the strategies they use to manage stress during the journey. The researchers will also consider the ways participants integrate back into normal life, and the personal growth they gain from the experience.

Dr Nathan Smith, explained: “From a personal perspective this is a very exciting project to be working on. Ever since reading the stories of Wilfred Thesiger, the Empty Quarter desert has been a place of fascination for me. There is a longstanding British connection to Oman and the Empty Quarter and Bertram Thomas’s journey in the 1930s was a historic moment in British exploration history.

“Being able to work with the Crossing The Empty Quarter expedition team provides a unique opportunity to study psychological processes in a hyper-arid environment. The desert environment will pose similar challenges to the journeys in Arctic and Antarctic that we have been studying recently. There will also be a variety of unique stressors and we are interested in how the team cope with such challenges and the impact it has on their mood. Being able to work with expedition groups operating in different types of extreme environment is beneficial. It allows us, as a scientific community, to build a broader picture of how a person will respond to different extreme situations and the factors that are likely to influence such responses. Ultimately this will enable us to prepare other people that are planning to spend prolonged periods in extreme conditions.”

The University of Northampton’s research team also includes Dr Hala Mansour and Dr Florence Kinnafick, who will be collaborating with Dr Emma Barrett of Lancaster University and Professor Gro Sandal of the University of Bergen, Norway.

This extreme environments project is funded by Santander and is part of an ongoing collaboration between the University of Northampton’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing and researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway. The overall aim of the research programme is to understand optimal functioning in extreme environments and how to promote positive responses when returning from journeys into such conditions. The expedition will depart from Salalah on 10 December. To keep up to date with the University of Northampton’s research, visit theInstitute of Health and Wellbeing website. For more information about the expedition, Mark Evans recently spoke to Sky News about the challenge; to view the news article, click here.
All of the research undertaken at the University of Northampton, and the work that we do to generate new knowledge, is designed to have a social impact, helping improve the lives of people and the environment. Delivering social impact through research is a key part of the University’s strategic plan Transforming Lives + Inspiring Change.

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