Is Antarctica Just The Tip of The Iceberg?

Intelligent Team Building Program by Tirian: On Thin ICE

By Gaia Grant

Creating inclusive teams – Article


On October 2 2000, a super iceberg –one of the biggest recorded in the satellite era – broke off Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, drawing attention to concerns about the polar ice melt. The iceberg (BF15F) is about 295 kilometres long and 37 kilometres wide. This iceberg covers an area of around 10,000 square kilometres and holds roughly 2,000 cubic kilometres of water.

The first breakaway iceberg to capture wide public interest was in 1986. It was about 13,000 square kilometres – the size of Luxemburg. Its separation took with it the abandoned Argentine station and the Soviet summer station. It took three months for the Soviets to find their station.

The balance between polar snowfall and iceberg is vital to monitor global climate change. At least seven smaller ice shelves are breaking up as a result of local climate warming.

Antarctica is a living, breathing continent. This continent doubles in size for a quarter of the year. It is in a constant state of motion, that is undetectable by the human eye but has an awesome inertia, and moves 30 cm a year due to pressure. Every year the potential resources of this continent are being depleted.

The entire planet could become imbalanced through global warming. Researchers must find away to prevent icebergs breaking away, to keep the continent intact and avoid meltdown. Scientists must read the signs and adapt to the changes, appreciating that prevention is the best solution.

We all walk on thin ice

Understanding the threat to the power and stability of the Antarctic under pressure and through constant change may help to unlock other universal mysteries. Interestingly enough, what is happening at an environmental level on the huge continent is being paralleled there on a human level. Is what is happening to Antarctica just the tip of the iceberg?

The scientists who go to the Antarctic to study changes during the “winter-over” period, a nine-month period of icy cold darkness, are themselves studied carefully by social scientists. Because they are limited to “Isolated Confined Environments” – otherwise known as “ICE” – they develop interesting patterns of behaviour. In these situations, positive group functioning and group cohesiveness are put to the ultimate test.

A researcher named Dr Jack Stuster who has studied the effects of ICE on individuals and teams says that a crucial factor to the success of an ICE mission is whether or not the individuals can form a cohesive group. When the diaries of ICE individuals are analysed, there are found to be twice as many entries concerning group interaction than any other factor.

For many years the importance of positive group interaction was completely overlooked. Teams made up of the best scientists were sent on these missions, but their effectiveness was severely impeded by their inability to work together. Antarctic pioneers of the past had to be young, fit men, who could follow orders and loved adventure.

Nowadays, psychologists frown on applicants who are simply looking for an adventure. Instead, successful mission applicants are those who are most accepting of others and who are able to create a rich “perceptual environment.” The responses to a psychological questionnaire and interview are considered to be just as important as the physical exam. Evaluators look for three main qualities, according to A.J.W. Taylor, who has written a book on Antarctic psychology: ability, stability, and compatibility. Ability refers to a person’s job skills and motivation, stability to his or her level of self-awareness and emotional control, and compatibility to his or her social skills

Finding the resources for survival

There is no escape anywhere, and men in particular tend to go deeper inside themselves to survive. Individuals report that they become acutely aware of their own inadequacies and the crowding expectations of their associates. The ones who survive with a measure of happiness are those who can live off of their intellectual resources, as hibernating animals live off their fat.

Arctic research is not only vital to understanding the environment. As many behavioral scientists have now studied how teams function during their stay, the implications of their findings can reach as far as outer space. One of the main insights NASA has culled from the Antarctic research is the importance of compatibility.

All teams go through stages of formation and meltdown that, to a degree, are caused by circumstances beyond their immediate control. When things “heat up” stresses cause cliques to form and individuals to break away. Politics can threaten the group stability. If these circumstances are not managed well – if a safety net / collecting tray is not in place – groups and individuals may drift away or even choose to break away. Breakaways do not, however, have the strength to face the new environment on their own.

Prevention is better than cure. Just as scientists are researching and monitoring the icebergs, systems need to be put in place to monitor and manage teams. We need to try to control the team environment, and have a back-up system in place for when there is extra stress on the group. Because teams are the foundation of organisations, they must be supported through times of change.

We all walk on thin ice, but it is possible to survive together by supporting each other.

© Gaia Grant


T-Thoughts articles may be reproduced with written permission and must also be acknowledged with a web link back to the Tirian pages.


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