Surviving in a World of Ice

polar bear

Tis the season of all things icy. From skating to ice cream on mince tarts, kids love to explore the cool side of winter time.

Some animals live in places where it seems to be winter most of the time. Polar bears and arctic foxes just have a few months of summer before the season cools once again. In the south, penguins also face frigid water most of the time. How do animals survive in icy water?

How do beluga whales survive in an icy environment? How do sea otters survive in icy ocean water? These animals have different survival strategies. One uses thick layers of fat to keep warm, while another uses air-filled fur. Both are using insulation to keep warm. Insulation means that they are surrounding themselves with a material that reduces the transmission of heat to the outside.

Use a dish glove to experiment with different ways to keep warm in cold water. Run some water in a small container, and add ice cubes to make it really cold. You can also place it in the freezer until it is cold, but not completely frozen. Then place your hand into the glove and put it into the water. What does your hand feel like? Pretty cold!

Now, experiment with different materials to see what happens to the temperature of your hand when you place it in the water. Place some wool or another fabric into the glove. Put the wool around your hand. What happens to your hand when you place it in the glove? Is it just as cold? A little warmer?

Now, try some fat. Place lard into the glove and put your hand into the glove. Yes, it’s sticky! Put the glove into the water. What happens to the temperature of your hand now?

If you’d like to turn this into a more serious experiment, place a thermometer onto your hand and one into the water, and measure the difference between the water temperature and the temperature of your hand as you experiment with different types of insulation.

Research many different kinds of animals and learn about the ways that they survive in icy ocean environments. Think about ways that you could emulate their techniques with your glove and ice water experiment.

Image Credit: Jede Hoog