What it’s like in the death zone of Everest, K2, and other mountains

  • The “Death Zone” is a region near the top of world’s tallest mountains that earns the name because humans aren’t meant to survive there.
  • Vanessa O’Brien is an expert mountaineer and the fastest woman to climb the highest peak on every continent.
  • O’Brien explains what it felt to be in the “Death Zone,” 26,000 feet above sea level.
  • The human body can’t function normally in the Death Zone because there isn’t enough oxygen at that elevation. Digestion can begin to shut down and some people have adrenal failure.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Vanessa O’Brien: 26,000 feet or 8,000 meters, they do call the “death zone.” The death zone is, you know, a part of what happens at height in the mountain.

You have to remember that a mountain at 8,000 meters, 26,000 feet is the very, very top of the troposphere. So you’re hitting the troposphere and the stratosphere, this is where planes fly.

You’re that high. Humans aren’t meant to survive there. So when you are climbing there, even if you are on oxygen, oxygen is not like oxygen in a hospital.

You’re at a two liter flow rate mixed with ambient air, this is not pure oxygen. The small amount of oxygen we take just to offsets the exertion level and prevents any frostbite getting to the extremities, or what we like to call “digits.” But it is by no means, something that would protect us from something like the death zone.

In the “death zone,” really, digestion starts to shut down, you’ll have adrenal failure, there’s not enough oxygen really to prevent cognitive failure.

You’ll have adrenal failure, there’s not enough oxygen really to prevent cognitive failure. You know, the brain and the lungs are getting just basically the minimum that they need.

I like to think of it as really a ticking time bomb of what you really need, maybe 24 hours, up and out. Anything over that, you really risk heading to a memorial at the bottom of the mountain.

That’s why on K2, I was worried about our team. Our team’s summit was 16 hours. You know, when I’m looking at that 24-hour window, knowing that we’re coming down at night, you know, that was 23-hours. I think that threaded a needle very, very closely.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2017.

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Doctors and COVID-19 patients in India are turning to social media in desperate pleas for oxygen, blood plasma, and ICU beds

india second covid wave
India hits world record COVID-19 cases.

  • Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp have been flooded with desperate calls for COVID-19 help from people in India.
  • Doctors, politicians, and patients are seeking oxygen, ICU beds, and blood plasma.
  • India’s COVID-19 daily cases hit a world record on Sunday, with 350,000 new cases.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In India, social-media platforms are flooded with requests for oxygen, intensive care unit (ICU) beds, and blood plasma amid the deepening COVID-19 crisis.

India recorded more than 350,000 daily COVID-19 cases on Sunday, breaking the world record for the fifth consecutive day.

Doctors, politicians, and COVID-19 patients and their loved ones are using hashtags #CovidSOS and #COVIDEmergency2021 in Twitter posts to plead for supplies, The Verge first reported. Groups on WhatsApp and Facebook such as HumanKind Global are full of people searching for blood plasma and oxygen to help COVID-19 patients, The Verge reported.

Hospitals in the country are struggling to cope with shortages of beds and oxygen supplies – some say they only have a few hours’ of oxygen supply left. Crematoriums are also starting to melt from operating for so long.

Prashant Kanojia, member of the Rashtriya Lok Dal party in India and a former journalist, on Sunday tweeted with the hashtag #CovidSOS that a hospital in Meerut, north India, needed urgent oxygen supplies.

Read more: Hospitals in India are turning patients away and COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing. But Prime Minister Modi is on the campaign trail and ignoring the crisis.

In response to a thread by journalist Swati Chaturvedi to amplify people’s requests for help, one Twitter user said her relative was a critical cancer patient who couldn’t be transferred to ICU because there were no beds available.

Another Twitter user replied to the thread, saying that their friend’s father was “extremely critical” and needed a ventilator urgently in the National Capital Region of India.

Vinay Srivastava, an Indian journalist who had COVID-19, tweeted on April 16 that his oxygen levels had dropped and that he needed medical help. He was denied healthcare because he didn’t have the right paperwork, local media reported. He died the day after his Twitter plea.

Hemant Rajaura, a health reporter for Hindustan Newspaper, tweeted on Sunday that the oxygen supply in Irene Hospital in New Delhi had dropped, endangering patients.

The day before, he tweeted that Delhi needed 700 tons of oxygen to cope with demand, but that only 330 tons was reaching the city.

The US on Sunday said it would provide supplies for testing, drugs, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and vaccines to help India fight its current coronavirus wave. Less than 2% of India’s population is fully vaccinated.

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India’s COVID-19 surge is highlighting a ruthless, global black market for oxygen, where sellers jack prices up to 1,000%

A Covid-19 patient gets admitted to a government hospital in Kolkata, India, 22 April, 2021. India reported 314,835 fresh coronavirus infections on Thursday according to an Indian media report.
A COVID-19 patient is given oxygen at a hospital in Kolkata, India, on Thursday.

  • Desperate Indians are turning to a black market in oxygen as stocks dwindle amid a COVID-19 surge.
  • Oxygen shortages have taken hold in several countries, with rampant price-gouging.
  • Reports from around the world detail cylinders being sold for ten times their normal price.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

India is having to deal with a black market for oxygen amidst a record-breaking COVID-19 surge that has exhausted supplies in many hospitals.

It is a trend that has been seen in many countries around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Six hospitals in India said Thursday that hey had run out of medical oxygen, one of the most important treatments for those struggling with COVID-19 symptoms.

Demand for oxygen is likely to shoot up in coming days in twelve states in India as the country continues to report hundreds of thousands of new cases each day, the Indian Express reported.

The Times of India reported Thursday that the average cost of an oxygen cylinder has “skyrocketed”, to 20,000 to 25,000 rupees, about $250-330.

One man in India told AFP that he paid 45,000 rupees, about $600, for a cylinder of oxygen. That is about nine times its normal price, AFP reported on Thursday.

One advertisement circulated on social media offering a cylinder for 30,000 rupees, about $400. Another offered it for 35,000, about $460, the Times of India reported.

According to World Bank data, the Gross National Income per capita in India is $2,120 per year.

India is not alone in facing this issue. 25 countries around the world are reporting a surge in demand for oxygen, mostly in Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

More than half a million COVID-19 patients need oxygen treatment every day, per WHO estimates. That means 1.1 million oxygen cylinders every day.

Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Egypt, Nigeria and other countries all reported shortages at the height of COVID-19 surges, and many had to deal with black markets praying on the vulnerable.

In Peru last year, the price of a cylinder of oxygen was pushed well over $1,000, The Guardian reported.

One woman reported paying nearly $1,300 for a cylinder, a markup of 1,000%, The Washington Post said on June 18, 2020.

In Mexico too a black market thrived amid a nationwide shortage, with demand up sevenfold, The New York Times reported. Trucks transporting oxygen were held up at gunpoint, according to local reports, and prices for oxygen tripled on the black market, The Times reported on February 9.

At the height of the shortage crisis in Brazil’s Manaus region in January, the price of a 50-liter oxygen container went up 6.5 times, to almost $1,200, France 24 reported.

Oxygen shipments were guarded by police. Some sellers were caught painting fire hydrants green to pass them off as containers, France 24 reported on March 19.

Black markets aren’t the only reason for a price hike. Transportation and infrastructure also contribute to the increase.

Oxygen is often produced by factories, and transported by cooled tankers over long distances. In richer countries, the oxygen is taken in liquid form by cooled tankers to the hospitals. This means the oxygen, which takes less space in liquid form, is cheaper to transport.

But most hospitals in poorer countries around the world don’t have this sort of infrastructure. They have to rely on the transport of heavy gas metal cylinders over long distances to reach the hospital. That incurs logistical and transport costs, passed on to the patient, according to a Medium post by Craig Spencer, a medical professor in New York and a board member of Doctors Without Borders.

Small rural hospitals in Kenya and Nigeria, pay 5 to 10 times more for a cylinder of oxygen than a London hospital does, according to an investigation from the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

According to The Times, at the height of the oxygen shortage in Mexico, a cylinder of oxygen cost more than $800, up to 10 times the cost paid by a US hospital.

Most states in India have redirected their oxygen production, which is used for instance in the iron, steel and glass industry, towards meeting the oxygen need, the Indian Express reported.

But here, again, the problem is transport, and India is huge. Oxygen production is mostly done in eastern India, whereas the demand for oxygen is higher in the western part of India and other parts, The Economic Times has reported.

Because of the increased logistics and transport, the cost of refilling a cylinder in India has been hiked fivefold, from about $1-5 to $6 to $26, The Indian Express reported.

India’s police has been cracking down on the black market for oxygen. The government of the Uttar Pradesh state of India has said it would invoke the National Security Act and Gangster Act to combat black marketing of oxygen, All India Radio News said in a tweet on Thursday.

India plans to import 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen to deal with the crisis, the Indian Express reported. It also set up an “Oxygen Express” train to get supplies to hard-hit states.

Some experts blame the government for not putting the infrastructure in place to avoid this situation in the first place. “We were aware that the second wave was coming but we didn’t plan to avoid unfortunate incidences like shortages of drugs, beds and oxygen,” epidemiologist Dr Lalit Kant told the BBC.

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NASA’s Perseverance rover just turned CO2 into oxygen. The technology could help future astronauts breathe on Mars.

moxie mars perseverance rover Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment jpl
Technicians in the cleanroom at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lower the MOXIE instrument into the belly of the Perseverance rover.

NASA sent the Perseverance rover to Mars with some bonus technology: a device that can turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, much like trees do on Earth.

The device, called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), pulled carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere to produce its first oxygen on Tuesday. It’s a small amount – 5.4 grams, enough to keep an astronaut healthy for 10 minutes – but it’s proof that the technology works on the red planet.

That’s good news for the prospect of sending human explorers to Mars. Oxygen takes up a lot of room on a spacecraft, and it’s very unlikely that astronauts will be able to bring enough with them to Mars. So they’ll need to produce their own oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, both for breathing and for fueling rockets to return to Earth.

mars human exploration settlement habitat astronauts martian
Artist’s concept of astronauts and human habitats on Mars.

“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a Wednesday press release.

“MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars,” he added. “Oxygen isn’t just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home.”

The golden box holding the experiment is about the size of a car battery – just 1% the size of the device scientists actually hope to send to Mars.

MOXIE descendants could ultimately produce enough oxygen – roughly 25 metric tons – to launch four astronauts off the Martian surface. Producing that oxygen on-site would save a lot of space, weight, fuel, and money for the initial journey to Mars.

How MOXIE pulls oxygen out of thin air

Mars Perseverance Selfie 2x1
Perseverance’s ‘selfies’ on Mars.

This isn’t the Perseverance mission’s only technological first this week. Another experiment it carried to Mars, the Ingenuity helicopter, made history when it flew above the Martian surface for the first time on Monday.

“Tech demonstrations are a really, really critical element of our portfolio,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Associate Administrator, told Insider ahead of Ingenuity’s flight. “They basically enable new tools in our toolbox.”

NASA Perseverance
Perseverance took a ‘selfie’ with the Ingenuity helicopter on April 6, 2021.

NASA expects MOXIE to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere at least nine more times over the next two years. This first attempt was designed to make sure the experiment was working. Future runs will test MOXIE’s abilities at different times of day and across Mars’ seasons. The device is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour.

At the very least, MOXIE won’t run out of fuel for these tests. Mars’ atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. The device uses heat and electrical currents to split those CO2 molecules into oxygen (O) and carbon monoxide (CO). Oxygen atoms don’t like to be alone for long, so they quickly combine into O2 molecules – the oxygen that we breathe.

The final product should be almost pure molecular oxygen: about 99.6% O2.

MOXIE then releases both the oxygen and the carbon monoxide back into the planet’s atmosphere. Future scaled-up devices, however, would store the oxygen in tanks for later use.

mars perseverance rover moxie installation jet propulsion laboratory nasa
Workers install MOXIE into the chassis of the Perseverance Mars rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on March 20, 2019.

Converting carbon dioxide to oxygen isn’t the only way that future astronauts could live off the Martian land. Scientists and engineers have also proposed using on-site rocks to build structures, or even digging up Martian or lunar ice to make drinking water or rocket fuel.

Regardless of which method it chooses, NASA will have to get resourceful in order to expand human presence into deep space. MOXIE’s success puts one more technology in its toolbox.

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