A Field Study of Carbon Monoxide Levels in Snow Caves During Short-Term Stove Use

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INTRODUCTION: While the use of camping stoves in poorly ventilated areas is discouraged, the need to address dehydration challenges in harsh arctic conditions has led to their unconventional use inside snow caves for snow melting, subjecting occupants to unknown carbon monoxide (CO) levels. This study, located at sea level in northeastern Greenland, aimed to assess CO levels and dynamics during short cooking sessions in newly constructed emergency snow caves. METHODS: In 5 snow caves, constructed according to the same design principles by 4 different individuals, a single MSR Whisperlite multifuel burner, primed with ethanol and burning white gas, was used to melt snow. CO concentrations were monitored every minute until all the snow in a 5-L pot was converted to water and CO levels returned to below 10 ppm. RESULTS: A total of 16 experiments conducted showed that the priming phase generated the highest CO peaks, with a maximum of 120 ppm. Time-weighted averages ranged from 14 ppm to 67 ppm, with trial durations of 15 to 21 min. A single trial with a dirty burner resulted in up to a 10-fold increase in CO levels. CONCLUSIONS: While single, short cooking sessions of less than 10 min burn time in newly constructed snow caves may be tolerated under specific conditions, the study highlighted substantial variation between caves and the importance of using clean burners, emphasizing the need for further research to gain a comprehensive understanding of CO exposure dynamics in snow caves.

Original languageEnglish
JournalWilderness & Environmental Medicine
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)129-137
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2024

    Research areas

  • blue flame indicator, cooking safety in enclosed spaces, poisoning risk, priming impact, shelter design impact on CO levels, ventilation canals

ID: 392443718