Experiment: how arctic animals stay warm in the frigid air

Weather Wednesday

Polar bear experiment

FARGO - Many handle this cold weather by staying inside or escaping to a warmer climate. But animals who live in the Arctic don't have that option, instead they have blubber. This is an experiment to see how warm-blooded animals can survive in the frigid temperatures.

First fill a big with ice and water. Put your hand inside a plastic baggie and dip it into the ice water, this will keep your hand dry and give you and idea of how cold it would feel without any help from fur or blubber, the thick layer of fat that helps provide insulation from the cold.

Polar bears have two coats of fur and can have blubber up to four inches thick to insulate and help keep their body temperature close to 98.6 degrees. The blubber also stores energy that can be used when food is scarce.

You can try to replicate that in the experiment with a bit of vegetable shortening, scoop the shortening into a different plastic baggie then use the original baggie to put your hand inside the new "blubber bag". Mold it around your hand and put your new polar bear "paw" into the ice water to feel the difference.

That’s just with a small amount of "blubber' or insulation, Bowhead Whales, who live in Arctic waters, can have 17 to 20 inches of blubber to help keep them warm. Swimmers who compete or swim in cold water or the ocean will even slather fat or petroleum jelly on their bodies to retain heat.


But without blubber, the best we can do in this cold air is to layer up: the more barriers between you and the frigid air, the warmer you’ll be.

Jesse Ritka is a StormTracker meteorologist and holds the AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal of approval.

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