A nose for winter

 

3D model of a polar bear skull. Noeska Smit/Gerrit Rijken.

It has been a frosty few weeks here in Bergen with lots of snow and temperatures dipping well below zero. With those bone chilling temperatures it becomes clear very quickly how we humans are poorly designed for such weather. Just breathing in the cold, dry air is enough to start coughing. If only we had a polar bear’s nose!

Polars bear are very well adapted to cold weather. Not only do they have thick fur and a generous layer of subcutaneous fat to keep the chill out, their noses contains a well-hidden structure that warms up and hydrates the Arctic air that they breathe.

The video above shows a 3D model of a polar bear skull collected at Spitsbergen that was scanned by Associate Professor Noeska Smit at the Department of Medical Visualization. Thin and curly structures are visible inside the nose. These are the turbinate bones, fragile bony plates that are covered in a mucosal membrane. The turbinates warm the incoming air and add moisture to it, ensuring that the air that reaches the lungs isn’t too dry. The turbinates’ convoluted structure increases the inner surface area of the polar bear’s elongated nose and helps it withstand the Arctic chill. Pretty cool!

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