Major Heat: Earth is steaming wet

January 30th, 2012
by Jo Law

In this second pentad of Major Heat, the winter monsoon north of Hong Kong weakened bringing the temperatures back up to the high teens. Sunday 29th January was the seventh day of the lunar new year, traditionally known as Rénrì (人日), literally: ‘people’s day’, meaning ‘everyone’s birthday’ when everybody’s age advances by a year (presumbly useful when individual birthdays were not recorded). On this day we travelled back across the equator and some 37º east. In doing so we moved from time zone UTC/GMT + 8 hours to UTC/GMT + 11 hours and advanced our clocks by 3 hours. We arrived in Sydney at approximately 07:25 on the morning of 30th January, a hot and humid day with a maximum of 34.6ºC recorded at Sydney Airport (AWS).

The three hours time difference is not extreme by any means but is still sufficient to disrupt one’s circadian rhythm. It has been suggested that it can take as long as one day to adjust to a shift across one time zone. According to a study carried out by the Center for Biological Timing at Univeristy of Virginia and the Department of Neurophysiology at Leiden University, jet lag or desynchronosis is the consequence of the dorsal and ventral sections of the suprachiasmatic nucleus losing synchronisation as the result of travelling rapidly across time zones. There is also anecdotal evidence that this chronobiological distruption is more pronouced when the transmederian travel is in the west-east direction.

As I sat on an east-bound flight carrying 375 passengers at full capacity, I thought about the future of travel across vast geographic distances. Even without the physiological effect of the desynchronisation of the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the economy of air travel alone is making the experience ever more challenging. How we may long for the ‘transporter’! But sadly as Lawrence Krauss tells us in The Physics of Star Trek, that ‘probably no single piece of science fiction technology abroad the Enterprise is so utterly implausible.’

3 Responses to “Major Heat: Earth is steaming wet”

  1. 1 Eleanor
    February 1st, 2012 at 19:53

    In William Gibson’s book “Pattern Recognition” the central character recounts her friend’s theory that jet lag is one’s soul catching up “She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien’s theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage”.
    I first read this book in GMT+11, and then again 7 years later in GMT+0.

  2. 2 Jo Law
    February 1st, 2012 at 21:32

    I also re-read the book recently and remember that description of jet lag well. The 6-hour cross-alantic flight from New York to London seems to be one of the typical west-east transmeridian routes studies focus on, probably because many travellers report quite severe effects of dysychronosis. The study mentioned in the post says that the ventral part of the suprachiasmatic nucleus can actually change our circadian rhythm in response to daylight quite quickly. It is the dorsal part that lags behind. The research finds that the neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA, is like a weak rubberband that slowly brings these two parts back into sychronisation. In the couple of days since we’ve been back, little Hollis has shown us that you can’t hurry that GABA!

  3. 3 Redmond Bridgeman
    February 1st, 2012 at 22:56

    The above account certainly explains some excellent reasons for my current ‘jet lag’. However, I feel I should add some more mundane reasons: the preference that Hollis had for spending his fitful flight on my lap – apparently, according to a certain party, because of additional padding around my middle regions, some slightly broken ribs (another story), bad turbulence encountered on the way back from the toilet that for a precious second left me thinking that the passengers had collectively, and refreshingly, hurled up the inedible and undrinkable with a collective cry of disgust, until I became aware that I was also hurtling upwards towards the overhead lockers. I could go on but I’m sleepy and must put that GABA to work….