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Funny You Should Ask: It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Humidity

Dry Up?

By Steven Pennings

Life began in the ocean, and our bodies remember. Nothing is better than when there is so much water in the air that they can’t even measure it, you have drops on your eyelashes, your clothes are sticking to your skin, and you’re not sure if you’re breathing or drinking something that Rosie made and served with pieces of fruit and a little umbrella.

Go to Arizona and see for yourself what happens without humidity. The ground is brown and their skin is leathery. They spend hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars a year on skin lotions, and it doesn’t help. Is that what you want? To dry up and shrivel?

Some people pay money to sweat in hot yoga classes. My lab team gets the same benefits working in mangroves and grasslands. As the day warms, water rises out of the ground and you submerge. Sunscreen drips into your eyes and they burn. You might be swimming in the ocean. You know you’re working. Some volunteers can’t take it. They run to their car, crank the AC, drive to the mall where the cold air is bone dry, and we never see them again. But they’re making a terrible mistake. Sweat is sweet. It reminds you of the ocean; of the womb. Humidity reminds you that it is good to be alive.

Pennings, a Moores Professor in the department of biology and biochemistry, is director of the UH Texas Institute for Coastal Prairie Research and Education.

Cartoon image of Eric Gerber

About Eric Gerber

As a former newspaper guy, I made a living out of asking serious questions. As the University’s communications director, I have to come up with serious answers. But, from time to time, I get a little silly and encourage UH’s otherwise serious academics and researchers to take a light-hearted approach and respond to our simple-minded inquiries with tongue firmly in cheek.