Monday, January 6, 2014

Episode 195 (1-6-14): Wading into the New Year, the New River, and Water Thermodynamics

Click to listen to episode (2:46)


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of January 6, 2014.

This week, we listen in on one Virginian’s annual challenge to the laws of physics—water-temperature physics, that is.  Have a listen for about 35 seconds.


You’ve been listening to Blacksburg resident Alan Moore during the 2014 version of his annual New Year’s Day wade into the New River.  This watery welcome to January 1st—unaided by a wet-suit—lasted only a few seconds, not as much because of the 22-degree air temperature as because of the 39-degree water temperature.  Water that cold can cause exhaustion or unconsciousness within 15 to 30 minutes, and even water at 60 or 70 degrees can be dangerously chilling over one to two hours, depending on a person’s body size and other factors.  Water’s capacity to chill a human body is much greater than that of air at the same temperature, for two reasons.  First, liquids generally conduct heat more rapidly than gases, because liquids are denser (that is, the molecules are closer together).  And second, liquid water has chemical attractions between molecules that can absorb high amounts of energy, compared to other liquids.  These and other interactions between water and heat—water’s thermodynamics—exert a big influence on weather, aquatic environments, biology, and taking a plunge on New Year’s or any other day.

For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.

[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 1/6/14]

The New River in Giles County, Virginia (looking upstream), at dawn on January 1, 2014.

The New River in Giles County, Virginia (looking downstream), at dawn on January 1, 2014.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Alan Moore for allowing Virginia Water Radio to record sounds during his annual New River wade-in on January 1, 2014.

Sources: Information on water thermodynamics—the physics and chemistry of heat energy within water and of the transfer of that energy into and out of water—was taken from the following sources:
Climatology—An Atmospheric Science
, by J. J. Hidore and J. E. Oliver (New York: MacMillian, 1993), pages 55-58;

General Chemistry
, by Linus Pauling (New York: Dover, 1970), pages 343-350.

Information on survival in cold water was taken from the University of Minnesota Sea Grant’s Web page, “Hypothermia Prevention: Survival in Cold Water,” at

Information on safety from hypothermia and frostbite, including the increased risk from cold water, is available online from the following sources:
Virginia Department of Health, at;

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at;

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at

Recent Virginia Water News and Other Information
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