UAE: Few places in the world get as hot as Abu Dhabi in the peak of summer. While old-time Emiratis devised various methods to beat the heat, for most of us the extreme conditions are a time to be prepared, whether it is in taking care of the body or ensuring that the car operates safely
For anyone who hasn’t noticed, summer has arrived. Hotels and restaurants are packing away the patio furniture, companies must observe the midday break, and the best place for a weekend stroll is an air-conditioned mall. So what does it mean to be hot? We look at the highs and lows of the rising thermometer from every angle.
The human body
While the body is generally very good at regulating itself, extremely high temperatures and excessive exposure to ultraviolet light can sometimes be too much for it to handle.
Normal body temperature is 37°C, and the body tries to maintain this using its sweat glands and muscles. When it gets cold, body hairs will stand on end to trap warmth.
When temperatures rise, the body tries to cool down by increasing blood flow to its surface, the skin. This causes the body to sweat, which as it evaporates, cools the body down.
Excessive sweating can lead to heat exhaustion, which causes dizziness, nausea, heavy sweating and a slightly raised body temperature. Those suffering from the heat should rest in a cool area and drink plenty of fluids to try to replenish those lost through sweating.
Heat stroke, where the body cannot control its temperature, causes confusion, high body temperature, a rapid heartbeat, headache, seizures and hot, dry skin or heavy sweating. This requires immediate medical attention as it can be deadly.
Exposure to ultraviolet light is another concern as this can cause eye damage, skin ageing, sunburn and also skin cancer. The amount of it penetrating the Earth’s ozone layer varies and is measured using a scale known as the UV index.
According to the website accuweather.com, the reading for Abu Dhabi yesterday was 12. The World Health Organisation says any reading on the scale above 11 poses an extreme risk of harm.
To combat it, wear sun cream with a sun protection factor of 30+ and avoid being in the sun for three hours before and three hours after solar noon.
Someone working outside during the summer should drink at least two litres of water every couple of hours, take regular breaks, get regular sleep and add a little extra salt to their meals.
Sitting in stationary cars in the summer can also be incredibly dangerous, with temperatures reaching 30°C higher than the outside within just 10 minutes of the vehicle being stationary.
Heat and the city
If you want to find the coolest sport as the mercury climbs during the summer, the best thing to do is jump in a canoe and paddle to the nearest mangrove swamp.
Research has shown that the mangroves, which grow in abundance on the eastern shore of Abu Dhabi island, can be as much as 5°C cooler than the surrounding areas in the hottest months.
This dense canopy of green covering the water reduces temperature, making them a haven for birds and fish. Even without a boat, it is still possible to enjoy the cooling effect of the mangroves.
A study by Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology found that the amount of greenery offshore and on land made the capital feel noticeably cooler in the centre than the surrounding suburbs, where there was much less vegetation.
This is a curious inversion to what happens in much of the rest of the world, where a phenomenon known as the urban heat island (UHI) has buildings absorbing the Sun’s heat during the day then releasing it at night.
Cities such as Abu Dhabi still experience the effects of UHI, but they are offset by the height of the buildings that provide shade and channel the wind. Greenery adds moisture to the air and makes everything feel that bit cooler.
The suburbs, in contrast, are mostly low-rise buildings with wider roads, offering little shade and set in mostly desert surroundings.
Masdar is now extending its research into UHI to Dubai and Doha, with evidence that using building materials such as marble and stone tend to reflect the Sun’s rays rather than absorb them.
Many of the newest buildings incorporate heat-saving elements into their design, including the twin Al Bahar towers of the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, the exteriors of which are covered in 2,000 parasol-like shades that open and close as the Sun rises and sets.
The materials being used for the new Louvre Abu Dhabi mean that the amount of heat the building, covered by a huge dome, will absorb has been reduced by 71 per cent, while the new Al Fayah Park on Airport Road will be entirely covered by a 20-metre-high canopy. Al Fayah means shade.
Experts say that careful urban planning can further reduce city summer temperatures by up to 6°C. That is something with which everyone can be cool.
* James Langton
Behind the wheel
The car, one thing most of us take for granted, is subject to more abuse in this extreme climate than you could possibly imagine.
If it gets you where you want to go you should probably pat it on the roof and say "well done", but then you might burn your hand.
Everything gets hammered. Obvious examples are the air-conditioning units, working full pelt for months and putting an extra strain on the battery, the life of which is drastically reduced compared to most other regions.
Tyres expand at an exponential rate on boiling road surfaces, their pressures increase and, if they’re not in tip-top condition, they are likely to explode.
Engine oil has to work hard for its living and its life is also reduced.
Let’s not forget your car’s actual structure. Modern paint processes have resulted in coatings that flex and contract without cracking, flaking or fading.
But if your car is getting on a bit, the intense heat and sunlight of the UAE’s summers will no doubt have taken their toll. Rubber seals perish more quickly and interior plastics can warp and crack.
Most car makers are, however, hugely diligent these days when it comes to pre-production testing.
Many have set up shop here, putting new models through their paces on our roads and dunes to make sure that we, as their eventual owners, aren’t left high and dry when the mercury heads for the sky.
* Kevin Hackett, motoring editor
In the old days
Even in August, Aisha Al Dabdoob received guests outside on her patio.
Ms Dabdoob, a healer in her seventies from Wadi Al Baih in Ras Al Khaimah, would tell her visitors that the best way to beat the heat is to greet the heat.
She would look at her air-conditioning unit with disdain bordering on suspicion. Fresh air is the best air, Ms Dabdoob would say.
It is a common view held by elders in RAK, who sit outside every day for a morning round of cards or an afternoon tea, regardless of what the thermostat says.
Modern families, however, survive summer by switching on the air conditioning and flying off for extended holidays in Switzerland or London.
Even in Ms Dabdoob’s youth, people survived the heat by migration. High summer, or gaith, was harvest time for dates and for pearls. Men left on merchant-financed ships to the lower Arabian Gulf to oyster beds. Families migrated from the coast, high mountains and desert to shady, water-rich palm groves for the date harvest between June and September. Even after the collapse of pearling, the summer migration continued.
They came by camel and boat, from as far as Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah to the gardens at the base of the Hajjar mountains.
Communities grow thick with temporary palm-frond houses. Those who did not own a garden could find work at farms.
Summer was a social time, for business, matchmaking and marriages.
During the season, families slept on raised platforms to catch the wind and lived in arish houses built of loosely woven palm fronds. The winter palm house, or khaimah, was tightly woven to keep in the heat. The arish allowed cool breezes to flow freely.
Urban centres and markets emptied in summer. Only foreign shopkeepers remained behind.
© The NationalJun 2014