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Life at the Limits - Human Physiology at Extreme High Altitude

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The summit of Mount Everest, standing 8848 m above sea level, is one of the cruellest, most unforgiving places on the surface of Planet Earth, and represents the ultimate mountaineering challenge. Violent storms sweep across knife-edge ridges, and a terrifying ascent of the sheer icy face of the Hillary Step stands between the climber and his goal. Above 8000 m, in the so-called Death Zone, atmospheric pressure falls to perilously low levels, impeding oxygen delivery to the tissues of the body. Human beings have a remarkable ability to tolerate low oxygen conditions, as most dramatically exemplified by the first oxygen-less ascent of Everest by Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler in 1978, and repeated by Messner and others since. In this talk, Dr Murray asks how the human body can survive at such extreme altitudes and in particular, why some individuals fare better than others in this environment. He asks if there are similarities between the hypoxia experienced by the mountaineer and by patients in intensive care units, and if hypoxia tolerance determines survival in the critically ill. He will also show recent findings from his own research with the Sherpas of Nepal – arguably the best adapted population of high-altitude dwelling humans in the world.

This talk is part of the Trinity College Science Society (TCSS) series.

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