Beyond the classic thermoneutral zone

B.R.M. Kingma, A.J.H. Frijns, L. Schellen, W.D. van Marken Lichtenbelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademic

Abstract

The thermoneutral zone is defined as the range of ambient temperatures where the body can maintain its core temperature solely through regulating dry heat loss, i.e., skin blood flow. A living body can only maintain its core temperature when heat production and heat loss are balanced. That means that heat transport from body core to skin must equal heat transport from skin to the environment. This study focuses on what combinations of core and skin temperature satisfy the biophysical requirements of being in the thermoneutral zone for humans. Moreover, consequences are considered of changes in insulation and adding restrictions such as thermal comfort (i.e. driver for thermal behavior). A biophysical model was developed that calculates heat transport within a body, taking into account metabolic heat production, tissue insulation, and heat distribution by blood flow and equates that to heat loss to the environment, considering skin temperature, ambient temperature and other physical parameters. The biophysical analysis shows that the steady-state ambient temperature range associated with the thermoneutral zone does not guarantee that the body is in thermal balance at basal metabolic rate per se. Instead, depending on the combination of core temperature, mean skin temperature and ambient temperature, the body may require significant increases in heat production or heat loss to maintain stable core temperature. Therefore, the definition of the thermoneutral zone might need to be reformulated. Furthermore, after adding restrictions on skin temperature for thermal comfort, the ambient temperature range associated with thermal comfort is smaller than the thermoneutral zone. This, assuming animals seek thermal comfort, suggests that thermal behavior may be initiated already before the boundaries of the thermoneutral zone are reached.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-149
JournalTemperature
Volume1
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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