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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1988 May;64(5):1916-22.

Effect of pressure on thermal insulation in humans wearing wet suits.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Kitakyushu, Japan.


The present work was undertaken to determine the critical water temperature (Tcw), defined as the lowest water temperature a subject can tolerate at rest for 3 h without shivering, of wet-suited subjects during water immersion at different ambient pressures. Nine healthy males wearing neoprene wet suits (5 mm thick) were subjected to immersion to the neck in water at 1, 2, and 2.5 ATA while resting for 3 h. Continuous measurements of esophageal (T(es)) and skin (Tsk) temperatures and heat loss from the skin (Htissue) and wet suits (Hsuit) were recorded. Insulation of the tissue (Itissue), wet suits (Isuit), and overall total (Itotal) were calculated from the temperature gradient and the heat loss. The Tcw increased curvilinearly as the pressure increased, whereas the metabolic heat production during rest and immersion was identical over the range of pressure tested. During the 3rd h of immersion, Tes was identical under all atmospheric pressures; however, Tsk was significantly higher (P less than 0.05) at 2 and 2.5 ATA compared with 1 ATA. A 42 (P less than 0.001) and 50% (P less than 0.001), reduction in Isuit from the 1 ATA value was detected at 2 and 2.5 ATA, respectively. However, overall mean Itissue was maximal and independent of the pressure during immersion at Tcw. The Itotal was also significantly smaller in 2 and 2.5 ATA compared with 1 ATA. The Itissue provided most insulation in the extremities, such as the hand and foot, and the contribution of Isuit in these body parts was relatively small. On the other hand, Itissue of the trunk areas, such as the chest, back, and thigh, was not high compared with the extremities, and Isuit played a major role in the protection of heat drain from these body parts.

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