Department of Sport and Exercise Science

Extreme Environmental Medicine and Science

Humans work, play, and explore in a variety of extreme environments, including man-made environments. Essentially a tropical animal, as we have evolved, humans have extended their footprint outside of tropical areas by the adoption of equipment (e.g. clothing) and technology (e.g. heating). Modern-day humans have extended their reach across the globe, into the depths, up into the air and since 1961, into space. Whilst the challenges for those exploring the depths of the oceans, space and the very extremes of our planet may appear obvious, the environmental extremes affecting many of us, home and abroad, are less well appreciated. 

The Extreme Environmental Medicine and Science Group adopts an interdisciplinary research approach to understand, evaluate, and enhance human comfort, performance, and survival in extreme environments. This encompasses the fields of sport, industry, emergency services, military and at the ultimate extremes, expeditions, and in recent years assistance to Olympic and Paralympic athletes in preparation for the Athens and Beijing Olympics. This research group undertakes high quality, high impact, internationally recognised research into humans in extreme environments, including:

  • The thermal environment, both hot and cold.
  • Altitude
  • Survival in the sea, both short and long terms effects of, and responses to immersion and submersion
  • Search and Surveillance
  • Expedition Support
Research into new techniques for preventing drowning in children and development of the “Float First” policy advice
Research into new techniques for preventing drowning in children and development of the “Float First” policy advice
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Survival in the sea

The group has published widely on the human responses to immersion and survival in cold water. Funded projects have included

  • Assessments of combat swimmer equipment and human endurance for prolonged military cold   water operations
  • Research into new techniques for preventing drowning in children and development of the “Float First” policy advice for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
  • The risk of cardiac irregularities during sea survival training.
  • The importance of crotch-strap retention systems in life jackets.
  • Survival breathing aids during helicopter underwater escape
The thermal environment

The thermal environment

Military projects have included determination of the thermal and movement impact on troops wearing prototype operational clothing to assessment of physiological status of those thought to be suffering from non-freezing cold injuries. From a sports perspective, we have a current PhD studentship investigating the characteristics of thermoregulation when exercising in sports-specific clothing.

Working at altitude

Working at altitude

This research strand within the group arose from a PhD studentship investigating the possibility of physiological cross-adaptation of the body to extreme environments, in the first instance promoting adaptations useful at altitude imposed by cold-water immersion (which is easier to instigate than altitude exposure). Other work has investigated the use of techniques such as inspiratory muscle training for improving performance at altitude.

Search & Surveillance

Search & Surveillance and Expedition Support

This relatively new and growing area of research has concentrated on determination of the best search and surveillance techniques for RNLI beach lifeguards.

The group provides support to many expeditions to extreme environments. Recent examples include:

Facilities and services

The Extreme Environmental Medicine and Science offers a range of research and consultancy services, utilizing the wide range of staff expertise within this group as well as the state of the art facilities and equipment housed within the Spinnaker Building.

Find out more

Research Group Members

The research group is coordinated by Dr Jim House, Reader in Environmental Physiology, and includes the following colleagues:


Ministry of Defence - Dr Dan Roiz de Sa, Honorary Lecturer & Independent Medical Officer (Institute of Naval Medicine) and Dr Mike Dennis, Dstl Porton Down 

Kings College London - Professor Mike Shattock and Dr James Clark

University of Wolongong, Australia - Associate Professor Nigel Taylor

Jozef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia - Professor Igor Mekjavic

The Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden - Dr Ola Eiken 

Kobe University, Japan - Dr Narihiko Kondo

Université Louis Pasteur (France) - Dr André Dufour

Surf Lifesaving UK - Dr Paddy Morgan, Associate Researcher

The group is also part of the Environmental Physiology & Ergonomics Research Exchange (EPERE) 

Get Involved

As a research group we are always actively seeking volunteer participants to take part in our various research studies. These studies are often interesting to take part in and can provide a great opportunity to gain an insight in to the type of work that we undertake. The requirements for participating in our research vary on a study by study basis, For instance, some studies will require elite athletes and some may require recreationally active or sedentary individuals. Similarly, some of our research may require participants make a single brief visit to the laboratory, whereas other studies may require multiple laboratory visits. On occasion we may be conducting work using only males, or only females, depending upon the nature of the research undertaken. Often a small amount of money is available for volunteers to cover their expenses.

If you would like to get involved in any of our research, would like to be added to our database of potential volunteers, or would like to discuss our research in greater detail or,  then please contact

Extreme Environments Laboratory Brochure 348KB

Informational sheet about the Extreme Environments Laboratory