8 Science-Backed Tips to Keep Your Feet From Burning on Hot Sand

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With temperatures hitting record highs this summer, beaches—and their promise of cool ocean dips—beckon. But to reach the waves, it's likely you'll first have to cross an expanse of foot-scalding sand. Sand is made up of decomposed rock—quartz, mostly, but also calcite, feldspar, gypsum, or basalt, sometimes with a smattering of shell, coral, or fish poop tossed in—and according to Paul Jarvis, a geologist and volcanologist at the University of Geneva, it receives solar energy via the process of radiation. The composition of sand causes it to heat up as the day progresses and to retain that heat, reaching temperatures as high as 140°F—sufficient to inflict third-degree burns. Here are tips for protecting your soles from this painful outcome.

1. WEAR THE RIGHT KIND OF SHOES.

This seems obvious, but the level of protection you get depends on the kind of shoe you're wearing. Materials such as plastic and rubber (what many soles are made of), foam resin (the stuff of Crocs), and the neoprene base of the Sand Socks that many beach volleyball players swear by provide a barrier between skin and sand. This helps cut down on conduction—the transfer of heat from the warmer surface of the sandy beach to the cooler surfaces of your feet. As a result, your feet are protected (at least temporarily) from blistering. And though they're likely the first shoes you picture when you think of the beach, flip-flops and other open shoes should be avoided on especially scorching days, because they let the hot sand in.

2. MAKE A PATH USING A COUPLE OF BEACH TOWELS.

Forgot your shoes in the car? You can protect your feet by rolling out a couple of towels to step on, repeating the process until you reach your coveted beach spot. The cotton of your towel is better at quelling heat transfer to your feet than the rubber soles of your shoes are due to what scientists call a lower thermal conductivity—“the measure of how fast heat can be conducted through the material,” Jarvis tells Mental Floss. However, your towel is also thinner than your shoe bottoms, and heat conducts faster through thin objects. In other words, you’ll have to hurry if you want to keep your feet cool.

3. RUN FAST …

The less time the soles of your feet spend touching the sand, the less time there is for conduction. But sprinting is probably a technique best reserved for covering short distances or for morning beach visits, before the sand has had a chance to soak up the solar rays for several hours and achieve maximum temperature. Because no matter how fast you run, conduction is still happening, and after some strides, your feet will eventually begin to feel the burn.

4. … OR BURROW YOUR FEET.

If you're loaded down with a cooler and tote bags, try a technique favored by professional beach volleyball players: Burrowing your tootsies as you walk, which puts your feet in contact with the much cooler sand beneath the surface. Because there are large gaps between grains of sand, it's “unable to efficiently transmit heat … through the sand bed to [its] deeper levels,” Jarvis says. So dig in a few inches. This way of “walking” is actually more of a slow shuffle, but it'll get you to your destination sans burns.

5. WET THE SAND …

It takes five times as much solar energy to heat water 1°C (33.8°F) as it does to heat sand by the same amount (what's technically known as heat capacity). So “adding just a small amount of water to the sand can dramatically increase the amount of heat the sand surface needs to receive before it gets hot,” Jarvis says. You can replicate the effect by toting a bucket of water and tossing its contents under your feet little by little as you go. While not the easiest method, it could be a solution for when you're already near the water and have to, say, run to the restroom or buy a snack. Just grab one of the kids' sand-castle buckets. Wet sand is also a lot less arduous to walk and run on than dry sand.

6. … OR YOUR FEET.

American pro beach volleyball player Sara Hughes has a go-to sand strategy: “To cool down, I personally like to put water on my feet,” she told USA Volleyball's blog. According to Jarvis, because water has a higher heat capacity than human skin, having wet—and therefore colder—feet means "you can be exposed to the beach for longer before your skin reaches a temperature at which it will burn.” Obviously, this is a highly temporary solution, since your feet will quickly dry. So bring the bucket for this tactic too: You might have to dip your feet into the water several times before reaching your ultimate destination.

7. FOLLOW THE SHADE.

Since it doesn’t take a lot of energy to change the temperature of sand, areas in shadow will feel noticeably cooler to the touch. It's easier to find those spots early in the morning or at the onset of evening, when the Sun is at an angle to the beach; the rest of the day, keep an eye out for shadowed spots made by the lifeguard chair, beach umbrellas, or palm trees to give your feet relief.

8. FIND A LIGHT-COLORED BEACH.

Should you opt to go shoe-less, choose your sand wisely. The heat capacity of the sand on any beach you visit is dependent on what minerals it’s comprised of—a challenge to know unless you do your own scientific studies, beach by beach. However, a general rule of thumb is that hotter beaches come with darker sands—and the opposite is also true. “Light-colored sand reflects, as opposed to absorbs, a significant proportion of the Sun’s radiation,” Jarvis says. “Dark sand, such as that originating from volcanic rocks [like basalt], is much more heat absorbent, meaning it will heat up quicker and therefore, potentially become much hotter.”

10 Citizen Science Projects That Need Your Help

A citizen scientist takes a photo of scarlet mushrooms.
A citizen scientist takes a photo of scarlet mushrooms.
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Channel your inner Nikola Tesla or Marie Curie by participating in actual scientific research, either out and about or without even leaving your couch. These projects unleash the power of the public to be places that researchers can’t be and to spread the workload when data start piling up. They really can’t do it without you.

1. Catalog photos of Earth's cities at night.

Photo from space of a city at night
Identify cities from the photos taken from the International Space Station.
Chris Hadfield, NASA // Public Domain

Cities at Night—a study by Complutense University of Madrid—asks people to catalog images of the Earth at night taken from the International Space Station, part of the millions of images in the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth database. The current project, Lost at Night, needs people to identify cities within images of 310-mile circles on Earth. Hundreds of volunteers have classified thousands of images already, but classification by multiple individuals ensures greater accuracy. In fact, the project will determine the optimum number of people needed. The primary goal is an open atlas of publicly available nighttime images. Just log on to the image database to help.

2. Follow fish using high-tech tags.

You’ll have to go fishing—an outdoor activity you can do by yourself!—for this assignment. Volunteer to tag fish for the American Littoral Society, whose citizen scientists have tagged more than 640,000 fish since the program began in 1965. You can tag the fish you catch and release, or report tagged fish to the organization. The data is sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where it helps scientists track the populations and movements of coastal species like striped bass, flounder, and bluefish. To get started, become a member of the American Littoral Society, which comes with a packet of tagging gear and instructions.

3. Spy on penguins in Antarctica.

Penguins on an ice floe
Keeping tabs on penguins is one way a citizen scientist can lend a hand.
axily/iStock via Getty Images

Here's another project for those stuck indoors. Penguins are threatened by climate change, fisheries, and direct human disturbance, yet scientists have little data on the birds. To fill in the gaps, 50 cameras throughout the Southern Ocean and Antarctic Peninsula take images of colonies of gentoo, chinstrap, Adélie, and king penguins year-round. You can help the University of Oxford-based research team by sorting through thousands of images to identify and mark individual adult penguins, chicks, and eggs. You'll be pinpointing seasonal and geographic variations in populations that may represent changes to the Antarctic ecosystem. Marking other animals in the images helps researchers figure out which ones are hanging around penguin colonies. Discuss a specific image or the project with the science team and other volunteers in an online forum.

4. Battle an invasive marine species.

Like to dive or snorkel? Make it count by reporting lionfish sightings or captures to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation's Volunteer Reef Survey Project. Lionfish, which are native to the Indo-Pacific, were first sighted in the South Atlantic in 1985 and were likely released by private aquarium owners. Since then, they have spread throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and caused native fish populations to decline by up to 80 percent. Scientists say this invasion may be one of the century’s greatest threats to warm temperate and tropical Atlantic reefs. You can also join a lionfish derby to catch and kill some of the tasty fish so scientists can analyze their biology.

5. Count birds from your backyard.

Bluebirds at a bird feeder
Bluebirds dine on mealworms at a bird feeder.
MelodyanneM/iStock via Getty Images

North American birds are in trouble. Recent studies predict dramatic declines in the populations of migratory birds due to climate change—and much of the data that went into these studies came from citizen scientists who monitored species without leaving home. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada launches Project FeederWatch in the winter months; you simply put out a bird feeder and report the number and species of birds that visit it. Citizen scientists can also join the Cornell Lab's NestWatch—you find a nest, monitor it every three or four days, and report your data. And every February, the Audubon Society runs the Great Backyard Bird Count, in which participants submit data to produce a real-time snapshot of bird populations across North America. Any time of the year, birdwatchers can submit lists of the birds they see on eBird, a huge database of sightings that informs public policy, conservation efforts, and other initiatives.

6. Photograph plants for climate change research.

The Appalachian Mountain Club's Mountain Watch program asks hikers to document alpine and forest plants for ecological research. By taking photos of flowers and fruiting plants along woodland trails and uploading them to the iNaturalist app, participants provide data about the times and places that plants bloom. Scientists then compile the information in an online database and analyze it for trends that could indicate changing climates.

7. Comb through ships' logbooks for weather data.

Old handwritten letters
Practice your handwriting-deciphering skills on the Old Weather project.
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Ships’ logs from mid-19th century American sailing vessels contain detailed weather observations. Citizen scientists can help transcribe observations from whaling vessels for the Old Weather project; scientists will use the information to learn more about past environmental conditions and create better climate models for future projections. Historians will also use the data to track past ship movements and tell the stories of the people on board.

8. Make American history documents and science notes accessible to more people.

The Smithsonian Libraries are stuffed with original history and science documents that have lain in drawers for decades. Help open up "America's attic" to the public by organizing and transcribing digital versions of handwritten field notebooks, diaries, logbooks, specimen labels, photo albums, and other materials. You'll join thousands of other volunteers to investigate documents like the Sally K. Ride Papers, the collection of the Freedmen's Bureau (which helped former slaves following the Civil War), and field studies of insects by the Irish naturalist Arthur Stelfox.

9. Investigate historical crimes in Australia.

Drawing of a convict ship to Australia
A drawing of a 19th-century convict ship destined for Australia.
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

If you're obsessed with true crime, you'll love this project. Volunteer to investigate and transcribe criminal records from 19th- and 20th-century Australia, which was founded as a British penal colony. Alana Piper, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney, will use the transcriptions to construct the "life histories and offending patterns of Australian criminals" from the 1850s to the 1940s. More than 40,000 subjects have been completed so far.

10. Map the unique features of Mars's South Pole.

Travel to Mars—without the hassle of zero gravity or space-vegetable farming—through Planet Four, a citizen science project that is currently tasked with identifying features on Mars's dynamic South Pole. Volunteers examine photos from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconaissance Orbiter and pick out "fans" or "blotches" in the landscape of seasonal carbon dioxide ice. Scientists believe these structures indicate wind speed and direction on the Martian surface and offers clues about the evolution of the Red Planet's climate.

Why Cats Like to Shove Their Butts in Your Face, According to an Animal Behavior Expert

This cat might be happier showing off its butt.
This cat might be happier showing off its butt.
Okssi68/iStock via Getty Images

Cats are full of eccentric behaviors. They hate getting wet. Their tongues sometimes get stuck midway out of their mouths, known as a “blep.” And they’re really happy hanging out in bodegas.

Some of these traits can be explained while others are more mysterious. Case in point: when they stick their rear end in your face for no apparent reason.

Are cats doing this just to humiliate their hapless caregivers? What would possess a cat to greet a person with its butt? Why subject the person who gives you food and shelter to such degradation?

To find out, Inverse spoke with Mikel Delgado, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis. According to Delgado, cats don’t necessarily perceive their rectal flaunting as anything aggressive or domineering. In fact, it might be a cat’s way of saying hello.

“For cats, it’s normal for them to sniff each other’s butts as a way to say hello or confirm another cat’s identity,” Delgado said. “It’s hard for us to relate to, but for them, smell is much more important to cats and how they recognize each other than vision is. So cats may be ‘inviting’ us to check them out, or just giving us a friendly hello.”

For a cat, presenting or inspecting a butt is a kind of fingerprint scan. It’s a biological measure of security.

Other experts agree with this assessment, explaining that cats use their rear end to express friendliness or affection. Raising their tail so you can take a whiff is a sign of trust. If they keep their tail down, it’s possible they might be feeling a little shy.

If you think this situation is eased by the fact you rarely hear cats fart, we have bad news. They do. Because they don’t often gulp air while eating, they just don’t have enough air in their digestive tract to make an audible noise. Rest assured that, statistically speaking, there will be times a cat giving you a friendly greeting is also stealthily farting in your face.

[h/t Inverse]

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