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Digital Subscriptions > American Survival Guide > February 2019 > ON THIN ICE!

ON THIN ICE!

SURVIVING A PLUNGE INTO FRIGID WATERS

In the winter, northern regions with lots of water features become vast fields of ice. Because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, you might be tempted to cross that frozen lake rather than go around it. That’s fine if the ice is thick; but, if it’s not, there’s a risk of falling through the ice. If so, you’ll be in extremely cold water (and extremely big trouble).

How thick must the ice be to sustain the average person’s weight? At least 4 inches for any reasonable activity such as walking or cross-country skiing. On a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle, at least 5 to 6 inches would be required. Always stay off ice that’s thought to be 3 inches thick or less, especially on warmer days, when ice might be thawing. Note that sea ice is weaker and requires a greater thickness to support the same weight as fresh-water ice.

HOW YOUR BODY LOSES HEAT

Your body has various methods it uses to keep its internal core temperature at appropriate levels. The “body core“ is composed of the major internal organ systems that are necessary to maintain life, such as your brain, heart, liver and others. A drop in the body’s core temperature of just 4 degrees (F) below normal might cause ill effects due to the cold—a condition known as “hypothermia.” In cold weather, your blood vessels constrict involuntarily to conserve heat. Muscles “shiver” as a method of heat production. As well, you can voluntarily increase heat with exertion; that’s why it’s recommended to “keep moving” in cold environments.

When the body is exposed to severe cold, as in the case of a fall through the ice, it’s difficult to maintain a normal core temperature. Cold water, because it is denser than air, removes heat from the body via a process called “conduction.” Water “conducts” heat away from the body much faster (some say 32 times faster!) than air does. The higher the percentage of body surface area that is submerged, the faster it loses heat.

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