Science Questions

Why does swimming pool water feel cold when it is warmer than the air?

Sun, 5th Jun 2011

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Question

@Neil_J_Thomson asked:

It was 20 in the shade yesterday - nice and warm. So why does the swimming pool feel cold at 25 or even higher?

 

Neil (Kent)

Answer

Dave -   The thing is that the temperature you feel isnít the temperature of the air or the temperature of the water, itís the temperature of your skin.  If your hand is sitting in air, your body is always producing heat quite rapidly, and air is a very bad conductor of heat, so it doesnít take the heat away very fast.  So even though the air might be 20 degrees centigrade, your skin might still be still be somewhere at 30 perfectly happily.  Water is a much better conductor of heat, very high heat capacity, so if you put your hand in even something at 28 degrees centigrade, the surface skin is going to very rapidly get almost to exactly the same temperature as the water, so that will feel colder even though the water is warmer than the air was.

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When you "feel cold" it is a relative sensation, i.e. it tells you not what temperature you are, but whether you are loosing heat.

Your body is at 37.5įC and air is an insulator, but water conducts heat very well.
Note how it feels cooler in the wind.

JMLCarter, Sun, 10th Apr 2011

@Neil_J_Thomson asked the Naked Scientists: It was 20 in the shade yesterday - nice and warm. So why does the swimming pool feel cold at 25 or even higher? Neil (Kent) What do you think? @Neil_J_Thomson, Tue, 7th Jun 2011

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