In December, the Franco-Swiss explorer Christian Clot took 19 volunteers on a forty-day immersion in the French Amazon, to descend along the Mataroni River.
In this hot, humid climate and surrounded by wildlife that can give you cold sweats, these twenty adventurers had a whole battery of scientific experiments to carry out.
Objective: to study the ability of humans to adapt to extreme and changing conditions.
A mission to put in parallel with climate change.
Barely returned, these “climatonauts” have a month of rest before leaving.
"Where you are going, three seconds of inattention, and you are dead," they had been warned at the Army's Equatorial Forest Training Center (CEFE) in Guyana.
It was early December.
The Franco-Swiss explorer Christian Clot and his nineteen team members stopped there for a few days, the time to learn some basics, before diving into the Amazon forest.
The immersion was total, without contact with the outside.
Forty days of going up the Mataroni river, sometimes by rubber dinghy, sometimes on foot.
And so many evenings to set up camp and try to sleep in hammocks, surrounded by not reassuring noises.
All without departing from the essential: this multitude of scientific experiments to be carried out, the results of which have begun to be analyzed by some forty scientists from fifteen institutes and organisations.
After Deep Time, Deep Climate
Because Deep Climate is indeed a scientific expedition and not the extreme version of “Koh-Lanta”.
A common point all the same with the reality TV show: that of embarking on the adventure Monsieur et Madame Tout-le-Monde.
These “climatonautes”, ten men and ten women aged 25 to 62, are jewellers, psychologists, author-lecturers, security guards, space engineers…
Christian Clot makes it one of the strengths of this expedition.
"We study very little how humans transform when confronted with extreme and changing conditions," he begins.
And when we do, it's often in the lab, after the experience has passed, and on super-trained humans.
Filling this void is the leitmotif of the expeditions launched by Christian Clot and the Human Adaptation Institute he created.
Last February, the Franco-Swiss had already made a name for himself by locking himself up forty days in a cave in Ariège, with fifteen volunteers, to study the deprivation of light and spatiotemporal landmarks.
“It was Deep Time, more focused on an extreme confinement experience such as lunar and Martian explorations could make us known”, explains doctor and researcher Stéphane Besnard, member of the scientific council of the Human Adaptation Institute.
More than the scorpion's sting, the constant humidity
Deep Climate is not on such a distant horizon, since it is a question of studying adaptation to conditions representative of possible climates in the near future.
In the Amazon, it was thus a question of diving into the hot and the humid.
Good news: All went to the end, when they were predicted some emergency repatriations.
It wasn't fun, far from it.
Speak to Gautier, stung by a scorpion which had ventured into his pants.
“Fortunately, it was of a species whose venom is not very dangerous, except for children, and can be neutralized by approaching a source of heat near the sting”, he says.
We can still imagine the anguish.
She didn't leave them much, listening to Diane.
"Cefe's warning was clearly exaggerated," she laughs afterwards.
But, yes, you still had to look in your bag before reaching into it or shake out your shoes and clothes before putting them on.
Small gestures, of course, but the mental load is all the heavier.
It must be said that, even without its fauna, the jungle had enough to test the bodies and the heads.
There is this sky, already, that adventurers hardly ever saw anymore.
And then this constant humidity, which marked the spirits a lot.
"We don't realize how soaked we are all the time," insists Diane "We tried prevention, spent an hour every day drying them, but we still had cases of mycosis severe feet", says Jérémy,
Climatonauts scrutinized by science
Christian Clot rubs his hands on these difficulties.
“In our daily lives, we all have reflexes of caution that we no longer think of force, he begins.
But how is this vigilance recreated in an environment that we do not know?
When does it become a reflex, freeing up the mental load that can be devoted to something else?
asks the explorer.
This is what interests us with Deep Climate.
From his work, the explorer has already drawn certain certainties.
“Adaptation is only possible if we accept the new situation and if we manage to find new reasons to marvel”, he points out in particular.
These forty days in the Amazon once again allowed us to observe this transition.
Several climatonauts thus evoke their wonder, little by little,
to observe the Amazonian fauna in its natural environment.
One of them, phobic of spiders, was even surprised to observe, with a flashlight, a tarantula making its living.
Deep Climate is not limited to these field observations, but goes much further.
The climatonauts had about forty scientific protocols to follow.
From questionnaires to be completed every day to blood tests in the middle of the jungle, including MRIs before and after the expedition.
There were also these capsules to swallow to record and monitor body temperatures or this bracelet to have on the wrist to continuously record their activities.
If they are sleeping, if they are awake, if they are standing, if they are sitting… Even their social interactions were scrutinized.
“With the Brain Institute's fablab, we have reworked a box developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) which allows us to draw a social map of exchanges during the adventure, explains Christian Clot.
Who spent time with whom?
And how many times?
It's very new as a tool, and we hope to improve it by the next start…”
The continuation in Lapland then in Saudi Arabia
Yes, yes, you read that right.
The twenty adventurers only have one month to recharge their batteries before plunging back into the extreme.
Cape, at the end of February, on the dry cold of Lapland, for forty days of crossing there again.
A month of rest will follow again, before a third and final departure, this time for the desert of Saudi Arabia.
“We will therefore end with hot and dry conditions”, slips Christian Clot, recalling that these conditions are those that we are most likely to experience in the future in France.
A way of inviting us all to prepare to be climatonauts.
Ariège: 40 days out of time.. The 14 adventurers of “Deep Time” will voluntarily confine themselves to a cave
Expedition: There is the ISS in Space, there will be the Tara Polar Station in the Arctic