Posted on August 23, 2011

The Shape of a Nose

Joan Raymond, Scientific American, August 21, 2011

Scientists have long been interested in the relation between a nose’s form and its function. New research is showing that climate may have played an important role in how the nose’s internal structure evolved.

Researchers in Germany recently showed that individuals from cold, dry climates, such as Greenland or Siberia, had higher and narrower nasal cavities than those from hot, humid climates, such as Papua New Guinea or Gabon. {snip} They found that the nasal cavities of cold, dry climate populations are relatively high and show a larger and more abrupt change in diameter in the upper part of the cavity than those of hot, humid climate populations. {snip}

This narrowing of the nasal passage enhances contact between the air and the mucosal tissue, which helps to warm and humidify that air, [lead researcher Marlijn] Noback notes. Cold, dry climate populations also show a relatively longer nasal cavity, giving this population more space in which to bring incoming air in line with body temperature. Microscopic hairs called cilia, which line the nasal passage, help to keep out pathogens and dust that may infect or irritate the lungs, and the cilia work more efficiently when incoming air is moist. “Proper heating and humidification of air in colder climates are important for respiratory health,” says paleoanthropologist Nathan Holton of the University of Iowa. In warm-climate-adapted populations, inhalations are not directed toward the narrow upper part of the nasal cavity for warming. So “people from warm climates, moving into cold climates, could be more susceptible [to] colds and related diseases,” Noback says.


18 responses to “The Shape of a Nose”

  1. Stiv says:

    The differences in nose/nostril shape and size being due to climate is pretty simple common knowledge, I thought. I’ve known that since I was a little boy. It seems like science is ‘discovering’ more and more obvious things.

  2. June Warren says:

    This is not new. We studied things like this back in the Sixties in physical anthropology. Eskimos evolved pear shaped bodies because that shape contains the most body mass for the least surface area, hence less heat loss. Nilotic Africans are very tall and thin so their bodies can dissipate heat. Big European noses (like Neanderthals had) pre-warm inhaled cold air. Dark skin evolved in response to higher skin cancer rates.

    This information has been around for decades but has been suppressed because of political correctness.

  3. Boondoggler says:

    #1 Stiv–hey, as the song says, “Everything old is new again”. Just look at the movies. I am seeing remakes of lots of old movies and generally, the remakes are garbage, at least in comparison to the originals. But, in the olden times, actors as well as musicians, actually did have to have talent.

  4. Varina says:

    Scientific American is a shadow of its former self. When I was in college in the seventies it would take hours to read it, especially if the subject was something I wasn’t too familiar with like physics. And it was a fairly hefty magazine.

    Hadn’t read it many years and happened to find a copy recently in the break room where I work. I pretty much got through the whole thing in 15 minutes. The articles were on par with Time or Newsweek, no effort or thinking required.

    Seriously, it’s a shame to see a once fine publication dumbed down to this level.

  5. White Guy In Japan says:

    As an anthropology undergrad student, my physical anth professor explained all of this in detail. Next semester, my cultural anth prof told us that there are no measurable differences and that “race doesn’t exist”. *scratches head*

    By the way, I finally got around to reading Rushton’s Race, Evolution and Behavior. Wow! My professors definitely omitted a few things!

  6. John Engelman says:

    I thought blacks had flat noses because of white racism.

  7. Harrison Bergeron says:

    This reminds me of that old joke from Saturday Night Live: “I don’t judge a man by the color of his skin; I judge him according to the size of his nostrils.”

  8. OldWhiteBroad says:

    I’m white, and my nose turns UP, as did my mom’s. Given that, one would think I’d be from a desert climate so I wouldn’t drown in the rain. (Not so.)

  9. Ben says:

    Yes, this isn’t new.

    As ANY plastic surgeon or otolaryngologist what is an “ethnic rhinoplasty” and I’m sure they’ll be glad to let you know.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Nose shapes have never “evolved” due to climatic conditions–this is absurd. Our White ancestors in ancient Rome and Greece had the same noses that we do today. Further back, archeological evidence clearly shows that our White ancestors in Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, etc., all had virtually the same facial structure that “modern” White Europeans still do.

    Eskimo noses look nothing like the typical Nordic noses, but they do look like native Siberian mongol noses–for obvious reasons.

    If you want to continue to believe that we evolved from monkeys into Black Africans, and then into White Europeans, you have the right to do so.

  11. Expat68 says:

    “Researchers in Germany recently showed that individuals from cold, dry climates, such as Greenland or Siberia,…”

    Or in the case of “whites”, such as Mars?

    Are you laughing? You shouldn’t be.

  12. Deniz says:

    Nose shapes have never “evolved” due to climatic conditions—this is absurd. Our White ancestors in ancient Rome and Greece had the same noses that we do today. Further back, archeological evidence clearly shows that our White ancestors in Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, etc., all had virtually the same facial structure that “modern” White Europeans still do


    I agree. Eskimo noses are nothing like Caucasian noses because they show distinct Mongoloid features.

    All Caucasian or at least Caucasian mixed noses (from Iceland to Afghanistan, even North India eastward and to Arabian peninsula southward) are more or less thin and long, the broadest ones are still much narrower than Africans although all climate types can be found in this extensive territory.

    The thin and slender blacks of East Africa are mixed with Arabs, that’s the reason why they look different from relatively pure West Africans.

  13. Anonymous says:

    @ 5 White Guy in Japan.

    I minored in anthropology in college and had a similar experience. Often I would get conflicting messages from professors. Sometimes they would say how a group had evolved to have certain traits (only if they were positive traits, of course)while also insisting that all people were the same.

    It actually was the beginning of me becoming a race realist, although I didn’t know it yet. When things just don’t add up, you start to question the “experts” who taught it to you.

  14. Playing Roots Backwards says:

    Here we have information about racial differences coming from the magazine that told us that race doesn’t exist a few years ago.

    That may sound like a contradiction, so I will take it onto myself to explain on behalf of Scientific American that racial differences only exist in nose shape and jumping ability. Race doesn’t exist when the topics of study are cognitive ability, impulse control or parental responsibility.

    You see, contradictions about racial differences are merely social constructions.

  15. White Guy In Japan says:

    @13- Yup, I read you loud and clear.

    For better or worse, some social scientists are starting to admit that they are not really scientists and that their purpose is to promote pluralism and “tolerance”.

    There is a split between the cultural/linguistic anthropologists (who recently decided they don’t want to be “restricted” by science) and the physical anthropologists who still prefer (and are criticized for using) the scientific method (data vs. rhetoric).

    I still love the social sciences and see great potential to measure and examine humans. Naive, I suppose.

  16. ProudtobeWhite says:

    Riddle me this: Why do elephants, which live in hot dry climates, have enlarged ears instead of black skin to counter the heat like Africans? Why did orientals, but no animals, in Asia develop slanted eyes if this is some kind of evolutionary adaptation to their environment? How did Aborigines arise in Australia 40,000 years ago when they had no boats and Australia split from Asia hundreds of millions of years ago so they couldn’t have walked there? They did not descend from marsupials and there is no fossil record of primates Down Under.

    Perhaps these questions are too un-PC to contemplate…

  17. Anonymous says:

    I recently saw one of those NAT GEO things about leopards. The beige with black spots are supposedly to let them hide by breaking up the mass.

    The black leopards supposedly live only in the jungles where the foliage keeps everything very dark. They turned all black to conceal themselves.

    Maybe that is why black human skin became black. For hundreds of thousands we and our ancestors were prey to other animals. Could be that black skin evolved for survival in dark jungles.

    Who knows, who cares. Anthropology is like psychology and Dr Fraud’s version of psychiatrity. A mass of assumptions and falsehoods that change with current politcal pressure.

    Check out what the shrinks said about homosexualtiy.

    For thousand of years various societies had various opinions on homosexuality. None ever thought that homosexuality in and of itself was a mental illness.

    Then Dr Fraud and his lock step cohorts of the late 19th century decided without any research whatsoever that homosexuality was in and of itself a mental illness.

    1970 the gays demanded that the shrinks remove homosexuality from the DSM, the official list of mental illnesses. The shrinks did so immediately.

    Call that science? Gayness not a mental illness for thousands of years then a mental illness for 90 years and then not a mental illness because the supposedly mentally ill gays got together and told the idiot shrink community to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses?

    That’s not science. Anthro, socio, even archeo are all fake.

    Speaking of archeo, it is amazing what different theories “experts” can come up with looking at the same pile of rocks.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I have always wondered why Scandanavians up there near the Artic have such long thin noses while the Eskimos in the same climate have typical mongolian broad noses.

    Same with Arabs in 110 heat. They have long thin noses. Supposedly blacks have broad noses because of the heat. So why don’t Arabs? Indians live in 115 degree heat. But they have long thin noses.

    I have heard this theory all my life. Looking at black and Arab africans and artic circle scandanavians and eskimos I’d have to say the experts are wrong.