The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments

By Claude A. Piantadosi | Go to book overview

15
Climbing Higher

Most of the world's population lives at or near sea level, where their ancestors lived for thousands of generations. Because the human body is adapted to life at sea level, it must make physiological adjustments to the decrease in atmospheric pressure at higher altitudes. These adjustments are true physiological adaptations that appear to have evolved out of the survival advantage that tolerance to O2 deprivation affords the body. The amount of O2 in the atmosphere declines as altitude increases, exposing the body to hypoxia, which produces the same effects as certain disorders of cardiopulmonary function.


The Physical Environment of High Altitude

At sea level the air column above Earth exerts a force approximately equivalent to the weight of a column of mercury (Hg) 760 millimeters (29.9 inches) high. This height of mercury, placed in a barometer, exactly counterbalances the normal sea level pressure of Earth, 1 ATA, or 1 bar (1000 millibars). On ascent to altitude barometric pressure falls because the atmosphere is less dense owing to the lower weight of the air column above it. Atmospheric pressure falls more rapidly at attitude than might be predicted from the weight of the air column because as one ascends there is less compression of the air from the gas above it. Thus,

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The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • 1: The Human Environment 1
  • 2: Survival and Adaptation 10
  • 3: Cross-Acclimation 21
  • 4: Food for Thought 29
  • 5: Water and Salt 41
  • 6: Water That Makes Men Mad 54
  • 7: Tolerance to Heat 63
  • 8: Endless Oceans of Sand 78
  • 9: Hypothermia 89
  • 10: Life and Death on the Crystal Desert 99
  • 11: Survival in Cold Water 119
  • 12: Air as Good as We Deserve 129
  • 13: Bends and Rapture of the Deep 140
  • 14: Sunken Submarines 152
  • 15: Climbing Higher 164
  • 16: Into the Wild Blue Yonder 181
  • 17: G Whiz 193
  • 18: The Gravity of Microgravity 203
  • 19: Weapons of Mass Destruction 212
  • 20: Human Prospects for Colonizing Space 227
  • Bibliography and Supplemental Reading 247
  • Index 255
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