Extremely cold climates are full of life. What kind of adaptations do polar animals have to allow them to thrive in these environments? Learn about one survival tool with this experiment!
YOU WILL NEED
- large plastic bags (we used one-quart bags)
- shortening (the solid white kind in the can, not the liquid oil)
- foam packing peanuts or broken up foam cups
- cotton balls, feathers, or other natural materials
- duct tape
- nitrile gloves (like a doctor or dentist uses)
- bucket of icy water
Assemble a blubber glove by filling a plastic bag three-quarters full with shortening.
Put on your nitrile gloves and insert your hands in two plastic bags: one filled with the shortening and the other empty. Zip the bags as closed as possible and then get someone to help you tape the bags closed around your wrists.
Place your covered hands in the icy water for as long as you can stand. Which hand stays warmer?
Repeat the experiment with different insulating materials, like the packing peanuts, cotton balls, and feathers. Which material keeps your hand the warmest?
WHAT TO EXPECT
Some of the materials placed in the bag around the subject’s hand will prevent cold from reaching her hand better than others.
WHAT'S GOING ON
Fat—even a vegetable-based fat like shortening—insulates animals from cold. So the shortening provides a decent substitute for blubber, the layer of fat that seals, whales, walrus, polar bears, and other marine animals in polar climates have under their skin.
Other materials, such as foam, keep drinks warm because they don’t conduct heat, so the heat doesn’t escape through the sides and bottom of the cup.
By the way, the bucket full of icy water is similar to the temperature and texture of the water around ice floes—where animals like seals and whales tend to live.
Photographs by Matthew Rakola