Wednesday, 16 December 2015


10 Surprising Ways Heat Affects the World
By Gregory Myers, Toptenz, 5 December 2015.

Every year when summer rolls around, people do their best to beat the heat. For some this means turning on the AC and going to the pool occasionally, but for others heat is more than just an inconvenience and summer is not a fun time to romp around and play. In some parts of the world dealing with the heat can be an extremely dangerous proposition, and even in parts of the world with air conditioning and modern infrastructure, deaths from heat stroke are a bigger concern than many people realize. While most people think they know how best to deal with the heat, there are many misconceptions about how staying cool works, and oftentimes the true dangers of the summer are not properly accounted for.

10. Heat Makes People Violent


Now, this may seem intuitive to some people, after all, people who get angry are often referred to as “hot heads,” but it is something that has only been really put under a stronger scientific light in more recent years. Many studies have been done on the subject, and some of them have gone back to look at weather patterns in ancient times - as far back as 10,000 BC. Recently a group of scientists from Princeton and UC Berkeley teamed up to take on an analysis of 60 studies that have been done on the subject over the years. While they are not yet certain of all the why’s, they are certain after an exhaustive meta-analysis that there is definitely a link between periods of high heat, and violence, wars and strife in the regions that have them - they found enough statistical evidence dating back many years to convince them.

However, this still leaves the reasons up in the air, and some experts believe there is more than one factor at play here. While there are many psychological and physiological reasons to believe that heat may indeed increase our anger response, scientists caution that there is a bit more at play. The study did not just look at violence among individuals, but spent a lot of time looking at weather patterns and how they affected periods of great strife in human history. This means that factors like climate changes causing people to need to migrate, and find better land, could have led to many periods of war throughout history. They also caution that while heat may make people more violent overall, it doesn’t necessarily mean all or most violence should be blamed on heat or environmental factors - there are often other things to blame as well.

9. Drinking Cold Drinks Tells Your Body to Warm Up


When it gets really hot, everyone switches to iced or cold drinks. Fast food places start offering discounts on their sodas, and anything that is freezing cold is the most popular drink around. At least, in certain parts of the world. In the United States for example cold drinks are generally the norm for the summer, but in some places like the United Kingdom, or India, hot tea is drunk regularly on scorching hot days. Some people have questioned why anyone would want to drink anything hot in order to cool down, but it turns out the British and the Indians might be on to something when it comes to their tea drinking habit.

Despite the counter-intuitive nature of it, drinking something hot actually cools you down and vice versa. The reason for this is that you have receptors on your tongue that decide whether something is cool or hot and then inform your brain. If something is really hot it will activate your natural cooling mechanisms. In other words, if you drink hot tea on a hot day, your body will start sweating and you’ll find yourself feeling more relief from the heat. An expert who agreed to talk to NPR about the subject suggested that hot foods may be popular in many extremely hot countries, because the spicy foods can activate the receptors in a similar fashion to kick-start the natural cooling process.

8. The Australian Town Where it was Too Hot to Pump Gas


For many people in the world summer is a time when you go to the pool, put on the AC for a while, and maybe drink more fluids than usual. However, for some people in the world, summer is a very dangerous time of year that can lead to serious exposure risk and realistic chances of death from the heat. In one part of Australia, the temperatures are known to reach extremely high levels, and the town of Ooodnadatta is known for having the highest temperature ever recorded in the country, at a whopping 50.7 degrees Celsius (roughly 123 degrees Fahrenheit). While this was back in 1960, the temperatures in Oodnadatta have become very high again in recent years. Just a few years back they achieved temperatures as high as 40.2 degrees Celsius (roughly 118 degrees Fahrenheit).

This heat was so bad that it became literally impossible for anyone to pump gas, and the town had to stop selling petrol entirely until the heat receded a bit. The reason wasn’t just that touching the pumps or almost anything metal would be likely to burn very badly, but because due to the heat, the gas would actually evaporate in the air before it could properly make its way into the car’s tank. The town’s problem made the news when some Australian women passing through had to spend the night there until the temperatures were cool enough to pump gas in the morning - during the worst of the days’ heat, they huddled between some meat freezers to stay cool.

7. Smokey the Bear May Have Done More Harm Than Good


Smokey the Bear is an iconic figure that taught us all the phrase, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” which seems like a lot of pressure to put on a little kid. For many people, Smokey is the mascot for those who care about our nations forests, and want to make sure that random fires do not destroy its pristine goodness. Most people would say that Smokey has done a good job over the years in encouraging people to put out their fires and save the forest, but over the years, critics have made a convincing case that the attitude behind Smokey the Bear is a large part of the problem, and may be actually making things much worse.

The problem is that Smokey may have been a little too effective at convincing people to avoid all fires entirely around them, which has only made things worse. Lightning and other natural sources often start small fires, that burn a lot of the fuel that can get the really bad wildfires going, actually keeping the forest growth from getting out of control, and protecting it from much worse damage. Unfortunately, due to the Smokey campaign putting out fires of this type have become common, and many people are resistant to the idea of controlled burning. While it is one of the only ways to help control the fires right now, many people are still so convinced by the ad campaign that they are turned off by the idea of any controlled burning near their homes.

6. The Solar System Warming Theory


While most climate scientists will tell you that the earth is warming up and this is being caused by a massive amount of greenhouses gasses that are being trapped in our atmosphere, some people have other ideas. Now, some people claim that these are all just natural climate cycle, and other deniers like to claim that nothing really serious is changing or happening at all, but one scientist had an entirely different take on the situation. Habibullo Abdussamatov is an astronomer in charge of research at an observatory in St. Petersburg, Russia, and believes he knows what is really going on. He claims that not only is earth heating up right now, but that Mars is also going through a hotter cycle, seeing the caps on Mars poles showing signs of melting over recent years. The Russian scientist is convinced that carbon dioxide levels may have some slight effect, but he doesn’t believe that it is nearly enough to count for what we are seeing when it comes to climate change.

Of course, most established climate scientists disagree with him strongly. Experts have explained that his theory doesn’t make much sense because Mars climate shifts are already known to occur mainly due to the planets wobble, and any similarity between it and the earths heat cycles are a coincidence. It’s also important to note that the sun goes through a cycle roughly every eleven years, something that has been observed by scientists consistently since the early 1800’s when they started tracking it. Our Russian friend denies this entirely and claims we are in a current period of “solar irradiance” and that the sun will reach a minimum temperature by 2040, at which point we will see the earth cool by many degrees. While it would be nice if our problems could be solved simply by waiting for the sun, his theory seems to be little more than wishful thinking at best, and a deliberate intention to ignore established science at worst.

5. The Dangerous Extreme Sauna Competitions


Saunas have been a thing in history for a very long time, existing in some form or another as far back as the Ancient Greeks. In modern times, saunas are most popular in Finland, where they are an important part of life starting at an extremely young age. In fact some Finnish consider saunas to be an almost sacred part of life, and take it very seriously. Now, while many people who enjoy saunas will claim health benefits, science is quite skeptical on the issue. As of now there is no real evidence that saunas actually give you any noticeable health benefits - the only proven positive is that they help some people relax. Now, while it may not have health benefits, no one would suggest someone stop enjoying something they do for relaxation as long as it isn’t actually hurting them. The only problem is that in more recent years, what was once just a means to relax, has become a worldwide competition.

Starting in 1999 some Finnish people who were really into their sauna decided to make a competition out of it and the World Sauna Championships were formed. The main rule was that the temperature would start at 110 degrees Celsius (230 Fahrenheit) and would be a competition of endurance. Whoever could stay in the sauna the longest would be declared the winner. For years the championship went along smoothly, and one Finn even managed to stay in the sauna for more than sixteen minutes. Unfortunately, in a future competition the current champion and another contestant both fainted while in the sauna. The Finnish champion lived through it, but the Russian competitor died from the extreme heat conditions. Luckily since then all future competitions have been canceled, but even when not competing saunas can be dangerous. Experts have noted that deaths in commercial saunas are far from unheard of, especially if someone is in the sauna by themselves, or sauced up on booze.

4. US Troops in Iraq Deal With Heat Rash and Hallucinations


For most troops serving a tour of duty, the most frightening or dangerous thing you have to deal with are enemies that are trying to shoot you, blow you up or stab you in some way or another. However, for troops in Iraq, dealing with their enemies is often more of a secondary concern to dealing with the almost unbearable Iraqi heat. Now, while on base there is usually air conditioning so it’s not generally that bad, but our troops often have to go out on patrol, or go to the enemy and that means venturing out into temperatures that sometimes reach as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Troops have to run around wearing heavy uniforms that aren’t that well designed to deal with heat, which can lead to a realistic chance of people getting heat stroke, and soldiers collapsing from the heat is not uncommon. To make matters worse, some soldiers have reported hallucinations from the heat - one trooper claimed to have spotted an entire Walmart after several of his buddies fainted due to the high temperatures in the Iraqi desert.

The consequences of the temperature can get even stranger. Due to the clothes they wear almost always being covered in sweat, and sticking tight to their bodies due to the design, many US troops in Iraq suffered from serious heat rashes. Others have had to hang up their clothes to dry - at bases with no washing machines - and seen not only salt stains, but actual clumps of salt in the pockets of their pants due to how much sweat they had excreted over the course of the previous day. Some troopers have claimed to go inside portable toilets where the small box traps the heat so badly it’s nearly unbearable to be inside, and some have claimed it almost started to melt the rubber tires on their cars. However, despite the extreme heat they have had to face, it is not actually the hottest place on earth.

3. The Hottest Place On Earth

Death Valley

Back in 1922 an air temperature of 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded in the city of Al Aziziyah, Libya. This record stood well into the new millennium, but just a few years back the methods of the recording were questioned by one Chris Burt of Weather Underground, and in order to ascertain whether his questioning was correct, the World Meteorological Organization decided to investigate the matter and find out once and for all where the hottest recorded place on earth actually was. Their investigation concluded that the previous recording had been taken in error, and gave the crowning title of hottest place on earth back to Death Valley.

The hottest place on earth received its name during the California gold rush when a group of miners decided to try to cross the valley in order to reach a place where they could find bountiful amounts of gold. Most of the miners attempting to cross the desert died due to the extreme heat, and nearly non-existent sources of food, water or shelter. Death Valley has had recorded air temperatures as high as 134 degrees Fahrenheit, and even on cooler summer days temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit and up are fairly expected and normal. However, while you can survive such hot air temperatures for a period of time, even worse than that are the surface temperatures. In some parts of Death Valley, the surface temperature has been recorded as high as 201 degrees Fahrenheit, which was nearly 75 degrees hotter than the current air temperature at the time of the recording.

2. The People Who Use Their Car Engines to Cook Food


Apart from keeping us warm, heat tends to be a super important part of cooking our food so it doesn’t poison us. As such throughout history people have always been concerned with finding proper fuel sources to heat their food, and doing so in the most efficient manner possible. In our current day and age, with our reliance on fossil fuels, many people are trying to find whatever ways they can possible to use alternate sources of energy, or find new ways to make use of things that would otherwise go to waste. While it may sound absolutely bonkers, some people looked at their car, realized it was generating a lot of heat that was basically wasted, and had a lightbulb moment.

There is a book published called Manifold Destiny that contains many different recipes, all of them which will tell you how long you need to drive, and at what speed to properly cook your under the hood meal. Some curious individuals have experimented with the idea and found that it actually cooks the food quite well and tastes just fine.

Usually, the food is put in aluminum foil and then placed on top of the engine in order to properly absorb and distribute the heat. While proponents claim it is safe, we can’t help feeling it would be a little disconcerting to know we are driving with piles of food wrapped in aluminum foil sitting on top of our engine. Regardless of the strangeness of the idea though, it is certainly a very energy efficient way to cook your food if you already had to drive a long distance.

1. Black Clothing Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Choice For the Heat


The common wisdom you will hear from most people is that black clothing is a really bad idea for the summer, and that you should really wear white or really light colors if possible. The logic goes that since white reflects heat, and black absorbs heat, that wearing something black will draw the sun’s rays straight to you and make you hotter, whereas wearing white will reflect them away. However, while this sounds like it should make perfect sense, researchers were baffled by the Bedouin nomads who live in the Middle East. The Bedouin always wear flowing black robes even on the hottest days, and so a group of scientists set out to find out why.

They had a volunteer stand facing the sun during the hottest part of the day, wearing several different outfits to test their efficacy at dealing with heat. Their test subject stood in the heat for 30 minutes in four different outfits. He tried wearing a white robes similar to the Bedouin in black, and white, and also tested out wearing a full army uniform and nothing but shorts. The tests concluded that while the black color seemed to absorb more heat, the heat had dissipated before it actually reached the skin of the test subject. The researchers concluded that for the Bedouin people there is no heat difference in wearing black or white robes. What was more important was the flowing style of the robes that allows for ample ventilation from the wind. While black may not be better for the heat, it shows that with the right style of clothing, it is not any worse than white.

So basically, Darth Vader would have been perfectly fine roaming the deserts of Tatooine, thank you very much.

Top image: Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes in Death Valley. Credit: Tuxyso/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]

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