Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What in the World Cup is the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index?

Location of Manuas in Brazil
The World Cup match between the U.S. and Portugal this past weekend was played in Manaus, the capital city of the state of Amazonas in northern Brazil. It is located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. It has a tropical monsoon climate, with temperatures fairly constant and of course tropical humidity.  The U.S.-Portugal game began about 6:30 p.m. local time.  The temperature at game time, about 30 minutes after sunset, was about 85°F and the dewpoint was a stifling 73°F. You may have read or heard a reference to the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature index this weekend in relation to the U.S.-Portugal game and anticipated conditions. To be honest this was the first time I had heard of this, and that sent me searching for some information.

Most of us are familiar with the Heat Index used here in the U.S. to describe the combined effects of temperature and humidity as an "equivalent temperature".  The Wet Bulb Globe Temperature index (WBGT)is a more elaborate and complex method of measuring heat stress. It measures heat stress in direct sunlight which takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and solar radiation.

There are three temperature measurements that are part of the WBGT calculation. The wet-bulb temperature is measured using an exposed thermometer with its bulb covered by a cotton wick wetted by distilled water. This measures evaporative cooling which in turn is affected by wind, humidity, and solar radiation.

The second measurement is the black globe temperature. This consists of a thermometer centered in a 6-inch black globe. This measurements represents the integrated effects of solar radiation and wind.

The third measurement is the standard air temperature measured by a shielded thermometer (in a radiation screen). This represents the temperature "in the shade" and is the standard air temperature most of us are familiar with.

These three measurements are used to calculate the WBGT as follows:

Tw = wet-bulb temperature
Tg = black globe temperature
Ta = air temperature

WBGT = (0.7 × Tw) + (0.2 × Tg) + (0.1 × Ta)

Indoors, or when solar radiation is not a factor such as at night, the following formula is used:

WBGT = (0.7 x Tw) + (0.3 x Tg)

Since the formula just weights the contribution of the respective temperatures, temperatures can be in either Celsius or Fahrenheit.

The WBGT was developed in the late 1950s by the U.S Department of the Navy in response to heat stroke cases at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Paris Island, South Carolina. It was recommended as an international standard to measure workplace heat stress in 1989.

One reason we haven't heard much about the WBGT is that it is not easily measured. There are ways to calculate it using wind, solar radiation, temperature and humidity measurements, but wind and especially real-time solar radiation measurements aren't readily available. The Heat Index used here in the U.S. uses temperature and humidity, two easily and regularly measured parameters. However, it represents conditions "in the shade" and does not account for wind and sunshine, both of which can make a significant difference on the heat stress on the body.

WBGT values are comparatively lower than corresponding heat index values. Here is a table of comparisons between the WBGT and the Heat Index. Note how when the wind is stronger the WBGT is a little lower, accounting for the cooling effect of the wind. Solar radiation is approximated by percent of sky cover.
Comparison of WBGT and Heat Index for various weather conditions.
Credit: NWS Tulsa

When the WBGT is 80 to 85°F, working or exercising in direct sunlight will stress the human body after 45 minutes.When the WBGT is above 90°F, heat stress will occur after only 15 minutes.
There are commercially available instruments available to measure WBGT.  They run about $200 and up, a relatively small expense for the workplace or for a large sporting event such as the World Cup. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has guidelines for workplace heat stress using WBGT.

Devices for measuring WBGT

1 comment:

  1. The National Weather Association published a paper on this topic in 2013. That is the first time I heard of it. The paper can be obtained here: http://www.nwas.org/jom/abstracts/2013/2013-JOM18/abstract.php