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From the desert to the ice: The 'Freezing Omanis' take on Antarctica

By Leone Lakhani, CNN
March 13, 2013 -- Updated 0241 GMT (1041 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A pair of Omani environmental activists have joined an Antarctic expedition
  • In preparation, they have been chilling their bodies in an industrial freezer for months
  • Temperatures can often hit 50 degrees Celsius in Oman
  • The expedition is to raise awareness of Antarctica's ecological importance

Muscat, Oman (CNN) -- Bone-chilling cold is virtually unimaginable to the people of Oman, where temperatures routinely hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) during the hot season.

So when Bader Al Lawati and Ameer Abdulhussain first began experiencing temperatures as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius -- for two hours a time, three times a week, over a period of six months -- they found it "a bit of a shock" to say the least, said Al Lawati.

"That was the first time we were exposed to something that cold," said the 27-year-old.

The pair -- who refer to themselves as "the Freezing Omanis" -- subjected themselves to the grueling sessions in an industrial freezer near the capital, Muscat, to acclimatise ahead of a far greater challenge ahead.

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Earlier this month, they set off from Ushuaia, Argentina on a two-week expedition to Antarctica as part of the Antarctic Youth Ambassador Program, operated by 2041, an environmental NGO committed to protecting the frozen continent.

'Desert lake': An ecological disaster?

Their trip, alongside 28 other participants from across the world, is intended to promote environmental protection of Antarctica and ensure the extension of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty -- the treaty prohibiting drilling and mining on the southern continent that runs until 2041.

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"We obviously know we need to do a lot of physical training, a lot of stamina, endurance training... to get our physical ability up to standard," said Abdulhussain. "But then comes the whole aspect of the cold. It's extremely cold down there, extremely windy."

Read more: Beauty and the beast in the UAE.

While Antarctica might seem a world removed from Oman, the pair don't see it that way.

"Instead of thinking of Oman just as Oman, think of the world as one single ecosystem," said Al Lawati.

Oman, with its diverse, and in many places unspoiled landscape, has been something of a regional leader in environmental awareness.

It was the first country in the Gulf to launch an environmental agency, although it still has some way to go. Oman is ranked 110 out of 132 nations surveyed in environmental sustainability over the past decade, according to Yale University's 2012 Environmental Performance Index.

Al Lawati said the coastline where his grandfather taught him to fish and swim as a child is now routinely covered in litter.

"Anywhere around the shoreline you find fishing nets discarded, plastic bags, cans... trash all around. That shouldn't happen with a place this beautiful."

But Lamees Daar, the executive director of conservation NGO the Environment Society of Oman, said the country intended to learn from the errors of other nations by preserving its environment.

"We are very lucky we're at a time where industry and tourism is coming up in Oman, and we can make that difference now and learn from other peoples' mistakes around the world," he said.

The "Freezing Omanis" say that once they're back from Antarctica they will have a renewed purpose to campaign for the environment at home.

"I want to come back and learn how to preserve that more," said Al Lawati.

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