Can somebody freeze so fast?

There is a scene in “A day after tomorow” where a helicopter pilot freezes to death in a matter of seconds.

Is such thing even remotely possible, even taking into consideration extreme weather phenomena?

Also, that got me thinking: Supposing that we immerse a living human in a huge vat of liquid nitrogen, how fast untill he freezes completely? My feeling is that while the skin will freeze immediately, it will take quite a long time until he freezes to the core.

My medical encyclopedia has this on hypothermia:

That quote doesn’t answer the question, which asks about time.

I can only find how long exposure will give you frostbite, which is 5 minutes or less at the coldest temperatures listed on the chart at this site. The chart goes nowhere near as cold as the -150º temperatures reported in the movie though.

I highly doubt extensive or even any research has been done on how long it takes for people to freeze to death in extreme cold. People who die in severe cold tend not to report their findings. Such times would be affected by activity levels, build, clothing, humidity, etc, and would be highly variable in any case.

Here’s an interesting description of a guy’s reaction to -37 C. Still looking for freezing temperatures though.

Isn’t the human body mostly water? So you could try to freeze something like a five-gallon bucket of water at a given temperature. Or you could use a side of beef to approximate a human being.

Mostly water, yes, but also constantly generating heat. You would have to construct something that was mostly water but also generating heat like a shivering human.

Nazi medical experiments blew through a lot of russian POWs and other prisoners testing cold water immersion rates of core temperature drop, and the best ways to rewarm their water-downed fliers. I would make an assumption they might have also made studies on how fast one goes hypothermic and death involving cold to give them a baseline to start the warming and revivifying from. I remember reading an overview of types of experiments run in Rise and Fall of the 3d Reich.

Nazi concentration camps did indeed do research on this, but mainly using gay prisoners. (Apparently as a humorous(?) reaction to the term “warm brother”, a german slang term for homosexual. Also because gay prisoners were ‘germanic type’, and believed to thus be a more accurate test. As opposed to russians and other ‘slavs’. Nazi theory held that ‘slavs’ were more primitive, and thus more able to withstand cold, etc. compared to the germanic races.)

This research actually seems to be about all that was ever done this extensively on the subject. (Nobody else was willing to ‘sacrifice’ their test subjects the way they were.) And, being german, they kept accurate measurements and results from their research. This has led to some controversy about actually using this research nowadays.

One group says that these actions were horrible, criminal genocide, and making use of the research results is effectively participating in the crimes.

The other group says that these crimes happened, and ignoring that will not undo them. It just means that the deaths were absolutely in vain, nothing good will ever come from them. But by making use of this research, at least some knowledge might be gained from these horrible crimes.

For a while, there was quite a fight among scientific circles. And both sides had senior rabbi’s supporting their positions. It has pretty well died down now, since additional studies of the records has shown that most of the gay prisoners were so weakened by starvation & other mistreatment that scientists don’t think the freezing test results are applicable to people in normal health.

I should have guessed those basted would have thought of something like that.

err bastards. :smack:

Yeah, my gut cried foul on this one too. (Watched the movie yesterday, as a matter of fact, and laughed all the way through.) Water has a high heat capacity, and you just don’t lose heat to the environment that fast. It was clear in the movie that the guy froze solid in a couple seconds. I just can’t believe that’s possible. Frostbite in a few seconds of exposure? Sure, at that temperature. But freezing solid? No way.

In Canada, we just call that “winter.”


Was that the series of experiments about taking downed pilots out of the sea?

IIRC the Germans actually missed the point of the tests. A downed pilot should be lifted out of the sea instead of the pilot trying to lift himself onto a rescue plane/boat and straining his heart. Sometimes the prisoners were lifted out of the baths of freezing water they were dunked in, sometimes they crawled out, that’s what killed them. I think this was picked up on and used later.

I guess that somewhere, on a criogenics web site must be the freezing time for a stiff, calculate for those extra degrees of a living subject and you can have an aproximation; me? too busy at the moment for that!. :slight_smile:

There were 2 series of tests that I heard about.

One involved tying gay prisoners in barrels, and then filling them neck-deep with freezing water. That research was supposed to provide info for dealing with downed pilots or sailors lost overboard.

The second one involved dressing prisoners in pilot uniforms, and then sending them up in high-altitude balloons, to study the effects of cold & oxygen deprivation at high altitudes. This was supposed to be useful for pilots of new higher altitude planes.

There were probably some more, but I find it too depressing to look for more on this.

Is there any info on breathing very low temperature gasses? I would kind-of expect the soft tissue of the lungs to freeze if the air was cold enough leading to loss of ability to breathe. I would also expect industrial accidents involving liquid nitrogen would give information on this. So would your lungs freeze at a certain air temperature leading to rapid unconciousness and death?

I don’t have my physics texts around me now, but can’t someone just punch some numbers into a calculator to get an estimate of freezing time?

Use 80L of water, 2 square meters of surface area (or is the estimate 1 for a human’s surface area?), a starting temperature of 37ºC, a stopping temperature of 0ºC, and an air temperature of -100ºC… and try to leave wind out of it. If it takes more than 30 seconds to freeze 80L of water solid, then we’d be pretty sure that it’s not possible under those conditions.

I wonder how long it would take the core of the human body to freeze if immersed in liquid nitrogen. Perhaps instantaneous?

In Russia, the winters HAVE you!

As a corollary to this discussion, there is also a phenomenon known as ‘cold shock’ which can bring on death faster, particularly in the case of immersion. A few days ago a man drowned in Sixmile Creek while on a rafting trip. He was wearing a dry suit, a life vest and a helmet, but was sucked under the water for about 20 seconds. It was enough to cause him drown in that brief period.