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Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2015

Exploring minds at South Pole

Monday, February 7, 2005

Dr. Jaime Brower grew up experiencing the cold, sometimes frigid, temperatures of Iowa but nothing prepared her for what she weathered during a career trip to Antarctica and the South Pole.

"Antarctica was fun," said the Newell native, now a psychologist based in Denver, Col. "It was a great out-of-town trip!"

The daughter of Arlin and the late Sharon Brower, Jaime is employed at Nicoletti-Flater Association as a forensics and psychological evaluator. The company is nationally known and often contracts with police and fire departments. The psychologists meet with those needing trauma counseling after situations such as shootings, accidents or deaths.

The company recently picked up a contract with Raythoen and National Science Foundation which allows psychologists to go into Antarctica to debrief the people working in the frozen tundra to make sure they are psychologically stable.

There are two groups of people there, she found. One is the scientists who are drilling ice core samples, studying the creel population, sea ecology, the ozone layer and air pollution.

And a second group of people are taking part in construction and maintaining the living quarters for the scientists. A new pole station is currently under construction, built on stilts to allow snow to blow beneath it.

The work they do is important but it is stressful and the conditions are stressful as well. Half of the year the sun shines day and night and the other half of the year it is total darkness. Optimum health is critical to endure the physical and emotional conditions.

Psychologists such as Brower visit with them, making assessments on their well-being. They also had the opportunity to discuss with the psychologists problems they may be up against. It is important, Jaime said, that everyone gets along.

"They are all stuck there unless there is a severe medical issue," Jaime said. They depend of occasional flights to bring the only food and supplies they can get.

Jaime and a colleague flew to New Zealand Oct. 14 where they were supplied with the proper "survival" clothing to bear the below zero temperatures including boots, face masks, coats and gloves.

The women had a five-hour notice before their C130 Air Force cargo plane was ready for take off. It was an "interesting" ride. They landed at McMurdo Base.

"They shuffle you out pretty fast," she said. She explained that because of the extreme temperatures, the gas lines in the planes freeze in 20 minutes. In that amount of time, the passengers must exit, gassing of the aircraft must take place and another set of passengers must board. "You don't want to miss your flight," Jaime joked.

The first look at her surroundings was incredible. "It was so awesome and humbling. All I could see is pure snow. Your breath and the cold air hits you like a sludge hammer. All of the skin had to be completely covered or hypothermia or frostbite could nab you. Sunglasses were also required so you didn't run the risk of burning your eyes."

Jaime explained that the elevation is 9,500 feet but because of the barometric level, it feels like 14,000 feet. She and her colleague were given medicine to help their bodies adjust. Jaime said she was fortunate that she did not get sick.

There were 74 people that were debriefed during the 20-day trip. The work days were long but very fulfilling for Jaime.

The group was flown to the South Pole to debrief workers there, as well. A second plane trailed them and Jaime wondered if it, too, was carrying people or supplies. She was told later that the plane was a rescue plane, in case the plane she was riding in went down. It concerned Jaime but she was told that for safety reasons that a second plane always accompanies such a flight.

There were many rules, she said, which were followed to the tee. Showers could be no more than two minutes in length. All the water used is thawed snow, purified for drinking uses. "I drank water that was 250 years old and it was better than Evian (bottled water.)" She brought some of the aged water home for her family to try; she was more impressed with the taste than they were!

Electricity and generators used throughout the complex are powered by fuel. There is no radio or television here, no source for current news. One of the few luxuries for the crews are video game units to pass time when they are not working.

Being at the bottom of the world has affirmed an important scientific law - there is gravity "and it works - and I'm glad!" Jaime laughed, admitting to having an odd image of herself hanging upside down on a globe.

With the coming of summer during her stay, Jaime said the days and nights were filled with sun. It was difficult, she said, to know when to go to bed and when to get up. "I had to trust my body, so I knew when to go to sleep," she said.

Jaime was quite involved when she was attending Newell-Fonda High School - participating in volleyball, basketball, golf, choir, speech. "Education came second. I wasn't a natural. I had to work hard." She graduated from N-F in 1996 and went off to college - with hopes of becoming a lawyer. She earned a double major in political science and psychology from Buena Vista University. It was there she discovered her love for psychology and shifted her route towards a master's and doctorate program in psychology.

"I knew I had found what I wanted to do. My parents always told me, 'Don't stop short - look big.' My mom was always a dreamer and my dad has always been a hard worker. I absolutely love what I do. Every day is full," she said of the job which often requires dealing with people in dangerous or stressful situations.

The Antarctica trip was something she will never forget.

"On a clear day, you can see seven miles and after that you can see the curvature of the earth. It's so cool; so awesome. I realize now that the world is much bigger than I've ever imagined. There are no limits now. I would like to now see the seven other continents; I've already been to the one that most people don't make it to.

"I encourage everyone to dream big, it's hard telling where they may end up."

Jaime said she may have the opportunity to go back to the Antarctica at the end of the year and she hopes to take her dad Arlin with her.

Jaime is the granddaughter of Wayne and Vera Brower, Early, and Chris and Harriet Laursen, Newell.



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